The Lord’s Supper is an opportunity for a public profession of our faith. It’s also a time for Christians to reflect on the once-for-all-time sacrifice made by Christ. In this sermon, Alistair Begg explains that communion involves instruction, commemoration, proclamation, participation, and anticipation. As we consider each of these facets of the Lord’s Supper, we can more fully appreciate what it means when we gather together.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I’m going to endeavor to do what I failed to do in the first service, and that is tackle both baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And I want to say just a number of things from the Bible about each.
Let me say something about both to begin with. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—or communion—whatever other important ends may be intended for both of them, they were appointed as a mode for publicly professing our faith in the gospel, that by means of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper, by means of our participation in the opportunity of baptism, both contexts are an opportunity for the public profession of our faith. If people would come around and say, “Why do you celebrate this meal as you do?” the answer is, “Because of who Jesus is and because of what he has done.” “Why are you going through water in this way? Why are you undergoing this ceremony or this rite?” The answer would be the same thing: “Because of who Jesus is and because of what he has done and because of what he has asked me to do.” Both of the ordinances of the church do this for us. Augustine defined them as “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. In each case the sign is a visible display that points to a reality different from and more significant than itself.” I want to say that to you again because it’s a very important sentence: “In each case the sign is a visible display pointing to a reality different from and more significant than itself.”
Let me give you a trivial illustration. For example, you may know that there is a sign somewhere up on the freeway that points to Chicago. You may know the sign; you may actually have parked your car underneath the sign. You may have actually pointed the sign out to other people. And you could be very familiar with the sign without ever having visited the place to which it points. There is a Chicago, you know, because there is a sign. Apparently, there are people there, but you do not know because you’ve never been. Or you can be very, very good with going into the baker’s, and in the baker’s there are all kinds of signs for tarts and flans and gateaux and everything else, and you’re able to point out all the signs to the people, and they say to you, “Well, have you ever eaten that which the sign is pointing to?” And the answer is, “No, I’ve never actually eaten it.” So the potential for being familiar with the sign without having ever embraced the reality to which the sign points is clear in these trivial illustrations, but it is equally so when it comes to the matter of communion and the Lord’s Supper. Since it is possible to participate in what is merely an outward display without knowing the inward reality to which the display points, it is therefore very, very important for us as individuals and as a church to pay the most important attention to these matters.
What we have in the New Testament in these ordinances are there not as a result of men getting together and thinking up a ceremony or an institution, but they are there by divine appointment. Look, if you turn to Matthew 28, at the way in which it clothes this for us. Jesus, in verse 18, came to his disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” So, somebody says, “Well, why do you have baptismal services?” The answer is because Jesus gave the responsibility, laid the obligation upon his apostles. They, in turn, transferred it to the leaders and elders of the church, and down through the history of time those who have taken seriously the Bible have recognized that baptism is not some kind of option as a result of human initiative, but it is rather an obligation as a result of divine initiative. If you turn to Luke chapter 22, which I suggested you might have your finger in, you find there that Jesus in verse 19 takes bread on the occasion of the Last Supper. He gives thanks and breaks it and gives it to his disciples saying, “This is my body given for you,” and then notice, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Why then do we have baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Because they were instituted—ordained if you like—by Christ, who is the head of the church.
Now, a number of you that are here this morning will, of course, have come out of a background in which you have been led to believe that there are really seven sacraments or seven ordinances. And if you have been catechized in your own tradition properly, as many of you I’m sure have, then you will have been believing always that you must add to baptism and to communion, or the Eucharist, penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, and Final Unction. To you I say this: take all of your seven sacraments or ordinances and then take your Bible and look for all seven. Retain all that you find and discard all that you do not discover. When you’ve completed the exercise, you will discover that as an ordinance—or as a sacrament if we choose to use that word—there are only two given by Christ and underscored by Scripture. Not that the issue of marriage or some of these other things is not addressed in the Bible, but simply that it is not given to us in the way that baptism and the Lord’s Supper is given. These things emerged in the development of Christendom and largely in the Middle Ages. By the time of the Reformation, the confusion concerning sacraments was far more about the nature of the sacrament itself than it was about how many sacraments there were supposed to be. The issue was “What is happening in the Lord’s Supper?” The issue was “What does baptism really mean?” and “Who should it be that is participating in it?”
And I think this morning in a congregation like this, if we’re honest, the real discussions that we ever find ourselves having do not really and ultimately relate to the numbers involved, but relate to the very issue of what is involved. Because as time went by, baptism and the Lord’s Supper came to be regarded not simply as signs of grace, as Augustine pointed them out, “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.” Augustine’s statement was representative of a fourth century understanding of things once you had had the development of the apostolic church under the Neronian persecution. But once you go forward from there, you discover that the signs of grace are now actually being thought of as containing grace and conveying grace. You understand the difference? So it’s not simply that the sign says, “There is Chicago.” Suddenly the sign is Chicago. It’s not that the sign simply says, “gateaux.” It is now that the sign is gateaux. It is not that the bread and the blood are representative of a sacrifice in the first century on a Roman hill, but it is now that the bread and the blood are the actual body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sign has become—the symbol has become—the reality. And as a result of that, we are then told it conveys the very grace that the penitent require.
Now, these notions are firmly embedded in the minds of not a few within our Parkside congregation. And when they are embedded in the mind, then it’s very difficult to unlodge them. And why would I even try to? Certainly, it would be far more sensible for me, and a far easier journey for me, simply to leave it alone. But I can’t leave it alone because if, for example, original sin is not removed as a result of the baptism of a child, then every grown-up child that sits and listens to me preach and hears me call for a response to the gospel, processes that call in their mind saying, “Ah, but this is for people who haven’t been where I’ve been or come through what I’ve been through, because where I come from, I know that I’ve already had that matter of original sin dealt with, because the priest dealt with it when I was baptized. And I have already dealt with the issues of communion when I took my First Communion, and I am able to deal with the results of sin within my life as a result of what is contained in and conveyed to me in the celebration of the Mass.”
Now, there’s hardly a week passes but that I get some mail and from Roman Catholic people essentially saying, “We really like you, Alistair Begg, but when it comes to the matter of Catholicism, you’re full of hot air and we wish that you wouldn’t talk about it because you clearly do not understand. And you’re always quoting old books and you never quote what people believe contemporaneously about these things, and so you set up a straw man and you trash it.” And every time I have to write back and say, “This is not my intention. I never plan to do this. If you think that’s what I’m doing, I apologize. I have no interest in doing anything other than trying to help my congregation understand what baptism and the Lord’s Supper are all about as a result of looking in the Bible.” I mean, that’s my job, right? That’s my calling. He gave to the church pastors and teachers so that they might edify the saints, so that the saints being edified may be mature, so that standing in maturity they may be able to go out and see other people come to faith in Jesus Christ.
So, this is not a pulpit to stand up and shout about what other people are doing. Some of my closest friends, all the way through childhood, all the way through school, college, every place, right up to the present existence of my life, are within the framework of Roman Catholicism. I have no interest in making enemies. But I have a compelling burden to make sure that sensible people would read the Bible for themselves and would weigh what they’re told against what the Bible says and determine whether they’re going to allow the Bible to adjudicate over what others say or whether they’re going to let other people tell them what the Bible means. So that’s why I say to you all the time, “Don’t take my word for it. Go read your Bibles.” Read your Bibles! The Holy Spirit will work in your heart. He doesn’t have to use me to get to you. This is just a privilege he gave me and an opportunity for you. But you can read your Bible. And at the same time, you need to consider what others are saying regarding these things. When the ordinances or the sacraments of the church are made to teach us other things than what the Bible teaches us, then we have to be very, very careful. What you have in the Bible is the truth of God verbally. What you have in the ordinances or the sacraments is the truth of God visibly. And the truth of God visibly conveyed by means of symbols does not contradict the truth of God verbally conveyed in the truth of the Bible. So when you find teaching that grants to the visible elements that which calls in question what we have verbally in the testimony of Scripture, then you’re going to have to make a decision: Are we going to embrace the cry of the reformation, “sola Scriptura,” so that this is our authority for understanding what the church is to be and how the church is to operate? Or is the Scripture just one of another source by which we may make our pilgrimage through our spiritual existence?
Well, let me—and again out of no desire to do anything than clarify the issues because … And let me say it to you another way. If you have children—and I’ve used this illustration with you before—if you have children, tiny ones, and you draw a horse for them on a pad of paper, and then you take them out through Geauga County, then they look out the car window and they’ll be going, “horsey, horsey, horsey” everywhere, right? Most of the time they’re not horses at all, they’re cows, because you failed in your instruction, because in drawing a horse and telling them what a horse is, you failed to tell them what it’s not. And if you don’t tell them what’s it’s not, then any time they see anything closely resembling it, they will call it a horse. So if I tell you that you meet Christ when you gather at the Lord’s Supper, unless I tell you what that does not mean, then you will bring to that phraseology all of the background of your life by which you have a legitimate right to say, “Well, I’m sure that what he really means is this,” unless of course I tell you, “No, I don’t mean that.” So we teach by the negative as well as by the positive.
Let me quote to you from the catechism, 1992 Roman Catholic catechism, blessed by the pope for the instruction of Roman Catholic people and produced in light of Vatican II. Let me give to you what is your contrast here, and probably 30 or 40 percent of this congregation has come out of or remains within the framework of Roman Catholicism; that’s the only reason I do what I do. “The Eucharist,” says the catechism, “is the source and summit of the Christian life.” In other words, it is there in the Mass in the Eucharist that the Christian life is crystallized, discovered, and truly experienced. “For in the Eucharist,” and I quote again from Section , “is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church.” “In the Eucharist,” I quote , “it is the sum and summary of our faith.” Now you understand, then, when you participate or observe these services taking place, you understand why it is that there’s hardly any Bible at all and why the preponderance of the time is given to this. There is a logic to it. It is true to the doctrine being professed, namely, that this is the sum and substance of the Christian life. Here is contained the embodiment of all truth. This is the absolute apex and imperative experience that must be known by all of the faithful. And in the course of that, the presence of Christ is there bodily. And, again, my friends always write to me and say, “Well, you don’t understand. We haven’t believed that for a long time.” Well then, I write back to them and say, “Well, you’re not a very good Roman Catholic, because the Roman Catholic Church still believes it. If you choose not to believe it, then you ought to get a kick in the seat of your pants from your local priest.” Christ’s presence is a substantial presence brought about through the conversion of the substance of the bread and the wine. It is “fittingly and properly called transubstantiation. The body and blood of Christ are there.” In fact, it says the bread and the wine become Christ’s body and blood and they do so at the anaphora, the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration which is, as I’ve just said, the heart and summit of the celebration.
“Well,” people say, “does this really matter? Why would it even matter? I mean, if that’s one way of looking at it, there’s other ways of looking at it, and surely we can all just look at it in different ways.” Well, no, there are two dramatic consequences that emerge from that. The first is—and I’m not sure that most people understand this or frankly even care about it on both sides of the divide—the first is that when you say that transubstantiation has taken place and that you have the real presence of the real Christ in these elements, then it is expressive of the fact that the Mass itself is a sacrifice in which the sacrifice of the cross is re-presented to God and applied to the people. “Oh no,” say my friends. Well, here’s the catechism, Section 1366: “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross.” So the cross and the Mass share the presence of Christ. They are identified. So the offering of Christ by the priest is therefore the same as the offering by Jesus made himself on the cross. “Oh no,” say my friends, “we don’t believe that either.” So, let me give you your catechism: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross.” So what Christ did upon the cross as a sacrificial offering for sin is now re-presented in the offering of the priests in the transubstantiated elements of the Eucharist. And as a result of what the priest offers up, there is then atoning for the sins of the penitent who are present in the Mass. Now, there is a logic to that, and the doctrine adheres. The question is, is that what the New Testament teaches? And for those of you who are tempted to say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter,” let me simply remind you that the reformers died fiery deaths because of this, that they were burned at the stake all over England and Germany and France and Scotland because of this issue. The fact that the twenty-first evangelical church thinks that, “It’s a sideline and who really should get himself upset about this? After all, let’s do sermons on how to be a better father ...” The fact that that is the case does not overturn the record of history nor the demand of the Bible. Are you still with me? One or two of you are, fortunately.
Furthermore, as a result of what is said to happen, the sacrifice is also made for the faithful who have died, “who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified.” By means of this sacrifice, “it enables them to enter into the light and peace of Christ,” Section 1371. In other words, the action of the Mass speeds those in purgatory on their way to heaven. Now you’re sensible people. You’ve read the Bible. You read the book of Hebrews. And day after day the priest offers up a sacrifice, which can never take away the sins of the people. He offers it again and again and again, because he has to. He himself is a sinner, and he offers first for himself and then he offers for the sins of those who follow him. But then when he who himself had no sin came as the perfect sacrifice for sin, he made a once and all-atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. Done. “Finished,” Jesus said. Not partially finished: finished. Tetelestai. Done. “I need no other [sacrifice], I need no other plea, It is enough that Jesus died, And that He died for me.” And he died for me once, and on the basis of his one-time sacrifice on the cross, he has provided a propitiation for the sins of all who believe. And he has left to us, in the symbolism of communion, the very emblems that may remind us of the wonder of the fact that, by his blood and with his body, he bore up our sins on the tree. Therefore, I do not have to run into some place in order to keep my salvation topped up, in order to keep my sins down on the register, in order to make sure that a religious professional can convey to me that which he holds in the container of the church, which alone is able to dispense salvation to those who seek it. This is not two ways of looking at one thing; this is two totally different views of the gospel.
Now, let me give you two things and I’ll move on. (You said, “There’s no way you’re doing baptism this morning.” I understand that, but that’s all right.) In the doctrine of transubstantiation, there is the worship of the host, and I do not mean in any sense to denigrate the sincerity, the love, the devotion, the commitment, the earnest longing that is represented in the hearts of many, many people for whom this is their standard pattern through life. Nor do I wish to call in question that there are those who genuinely believe within the framework of all of that stuff. No one has any right to make those determinations. What I’m talking about is the formal teaching of an entity in direct relationship to the clear teaching of the New Testament. Listen to what it says: “It is right to worship the Eucharist” “genuflecting or bowing deeply.” Why? Well, it’s logical. Because when they carry that thing down in veneration and in procession, they are not doing what I think is happening—merely carrying signs and symbols—but they are, according to the doctrine, carrying the real presence of Christ under the bread and the wine, and it is for that reason that they are to be reserved for veneration and carried in procession, Section 1378. John Paul II in the catechism: “Let our adoration never cease.” Okay?
Now, let’s just go back to Exodus again, the Ten Commandments. “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” Right? Well, there is an idolatry in this. And, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” So we just blew out the first two commandments. People come here, and they say, “Well you know, you’ve got nothing in this place. This isn’t even a church.” Let me tell you what you need for church. You need the teaching of the Bible, you need the exercise of church discipline, and you need the celebration of the sacraments. It doesn’t matter where it happens. And the reason we don’t have a lot of stuff all around the building is so that we would turn the gaze of one another always to the Bible. So, they’re always saying, “You know, there was nothing in there really except the Bible. I mean when you went in during the week, there was nothing there except there were hundreds of Bibles there. I mean, I’ve gone in many a time, and I just look around, and I stand at the back and I look and just go Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible.” Why? Because we worship the Bible? No, because we worship Jesus. And where do we meet Jesus? We meet him in the Bible. That’s actually why we don’t have a big cross up here. Some people say, “This is a terrible place. They don’t have a cross. I was in there and they had a wreath. Next year they’ll probably have a Santa Claus as well. Who knows what they’re doing? It’s a dreadful, dreadful group of people altogether.” Well, the reason we don’t have a cross is because some of you are so superstitious and mysterious. We’ll only play into your hands. You’ll be up here bowing down as if this is a holy place as opposed to row 14F, which is actually equally holy, you see. So, you can’t get what you want without getting what you don’t want, so we figured prevention was better than cure and we’d just leave you with the Bible, because we felt that would be pretty safe since that’s really what the Holy Spirit left to us. It makes sense to me; I don’t know about anybody else.
Also in the repetition of the Mass, it rules out, as I say to you, the offering for all time of a single sacrifice for sins, Hebrews 10:12. Because if the event is made present again, it is repeated; and if it is repeated, it did not take place once for all. Now, I’ll be glad to address the logic of that. If the event of Calvary is repeated, then it didn’t take place once for all, and we’re told in Hebrews that it did take place once for all. So what right do any of us have to try and repeat it?
Well, let’s turn from the negative to the positive in the final moments that we have. Let me give you just five words, and I’ll just give you the words and then you can make your own sermon up later. If communion is not that, what is it?
The first word is the word instruction. In communion, we have an instruction in which we obey Christ. We’ve just seen here in Luke 22 that it was instituted by Christ. When Paul writes of it in 1 Corinthians 11, he said, “What I received from the Lord I’ve also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night that he was betrayed took bread and broke it and gave it to his friends saying, this is my body which is broken for you.” So it is an instruction in which we obey Christ. Since it is instituted by Christ, it is an obligation and, unlike baptism which happens once, our sharing in the Lord’s Supper happens with regularity and continuity. We should note that it is not a saving ordinance. In other words, you can get to heaven without ever having sat in a communion service. At least, we hope so on behalf of the thief on the cross, don’t we? “Lord Jesus, will you remember me when you come into your Kingdom?” Jesus said, “Well, we’re going to have to get down from here and have a communion service, but apart from that, yes, I think everything’s going to be fine.” “Lord, will you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” “Today you will be with me in paradise.” On the basis of what? On the basis of the fact that the one to whom he was speaking was providing a once-for-all atonement for sin, including the sin of the penitent on his side. So it is not a saving ordinance, but it is a commanded ordinance. The Westminster Confession makes these things clear. Because when you say it’s not a saving ordinance, you will immediately get somebody putting up his hand saying, or nudging his friends saying, “There you are. I told you, you don’t have to go to communion. See, I’m not coming tonight. They don’t have to go, because you can go to heaven without doing communion.” Yeah, if you’re a thief on a cross. So, for those of you who fit the category, have a great evening! For the rest of you, I’ll look forward to seeing you. Why? Because it is a commanded ordinance—it’s not a suggestion. Jesus said, “I’ve got a few things you might like to do when I’m gone; but well, if you do, fine—if you don’t, fine. That’s it.” No, he says here, “This do, do this in remembrance of me.” And in the doing of it, we do not raise the ordinance above the Scriptures but, with the reformers, we discover that we meet Christ primarily in the message. So, it’s first of all an instruction.
Secondly, it is a commemoration—a commemoration in which we remember Christ, in the same way (and that’s why we read from Exodus 12) that the Passover was commemorative for the people of God, set before them the visual signs and symbols of God’s work of redemption in order that they might be reminded again and again of the wonder of what God had done in and through them. And what was portrayed visibly made sense of what had been conveyed verbally. And in the same way as I’ve said to you before, when we set the elements before one another in the celebration of communion, that which is taking place as a visible sign points to something different and more significant than itself, which is conveyed to us verbally and understandably in the pages of the Bible. And that is why, incidentally, the reformers would never divorce the celebration of communion from the preaching of the word of God. Which is, incidentally in passing, why I don’t think that women’s meetings should have communion all by themselves; I’m just thinking of that as I think about it. Or by and large that communion should take place in any other circumstance other than in the gathered company of God’s people, except in wartime in the trenches and except as a result of illness, where people are hospitalized or in home and someone has to go to them in order that they might feel themselves still to be committed to that. But the idea of little groups of people getting together and having sort of ad hoc communion services? I don’t think you can find that in the New Testament. That’s just my opinion, so you can mark that against that and go, “Opinion,” then against that you can go, “Rather weak,” and then just put, “Ignore in the future.” The bottom line is that if you divorce the table from the pulpit, you can do just about anything with the table, and that’s why the reformers said, we’re not going to divorce the table from the word. And that is, incidentally, why in a context such as this, the table sits beneath the pulpit: because the word presides over it all, for Christ mediates his rule through his word. So, commemoration.
Thirdly, proclamation. Proclamation. In the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. The same was true in the Passover. A child would say to his father, “Father, why do we do these things? Why do we do this every year?” And then he would sit his son down and say, “Well, you know, you’re too young to remember this, but you’re my firstborn son, and your mother and I—years ago now, in obedience to the word of God—took a lamb and shed its blood, and we put the blood on the lintels of the door. And we put it over the headpost of the door.” And the little boy is saying, “And why, Daddy, did you do that?” And he said, “Well, because we were slaves in Egypt, and because God sent his angel and he provided a way of escape for us. And by means of our submission to him and our acknowledgement of his provision and intervention, it was symbolized in our home by our being ‘under the blood,’ as it were. So we who were slaves were redeemed as a result of God, and now as we experience our freedom, we spend our time commemorating this in order that you our children might understand it too.” God redeemed his people by the provision of a substitute who would bear the judgment of a holy God upon sin. There was a death in every house in Egypt—it was either the death of the firstborn, or else it was the death of a lamb. And when we gather around the Lord’s Table as we will tonight, we are proclaiming the fact that God has redeemed his people by the provision of a substitute. And that of course is the message of the gospel. Will you now come and trust in the provision that God has made, and will you trust in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone for this salvation? And someone says, “Well, no, I will not do that. I want to trust in the church, and I want to trust in my endeavors, and I want to trust in my procedures, and I want to trust in my baptism, and I want to trust even in the Eucharist. I want to trust in many things.” And the Bible says, no, I want you just to trust in the Lord Jesus himself:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to your cross I cling.
Naked come to Thee for dress,
helpless come to Thee for rest.
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Jesus—
or I’m a dead man.
The fourth word is participation—participation, in which we feed on Christ, 1 Corinthians 11:26, when he talks about the wonder of what is taking place in this event: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner …” and so on. We, in coming to Christ in the communion service, are feeding upon Christ in our hearts. Isn’t that how we have come to trust in Christ, in our hearts? Somebody preached or someone explained to us that Jesus is the bread of life. And in childlike trust we said, “You mean like when we go to the baker’s together, Dad, and I get one of those rolls that I love, and I digest it physically, that Jesus is the bread of life like that?” And the father said, “No, no, no. Not in a physical sense, son, but in a spiritual sense. But in much the same way that you took that bread into yourself and you benefited from it physically, so by faith you receive the Lord Jesus into your life, to the very core of your being, embracing him as your Lord and Savior.” It’s not a physical thing. The sign points to a reality different and more significant than itself, so that what was true of us in coming to faith in Christ, in the receiving of Jesus, so it is true in the celebration of communion. We receive him in the same way.
Horatius Bonar, the Scottish theologian, writes a wonderful hymn on the Lord’s Table and he writes, “Here, oh my Lord, I see Thee face to face.” What did he mean? What did you mean, Horatius? That you see the face of Jesus? That his face is there in the bread, as it were? No, it’s a picture; he’s using a metaphor. “Here would I touch and handle things unseen.” In other words, he’s saying that when I take this bread and I take this cup, I’m not so focused on this as an entity. After all, dear people within the church just prepared it two hours previously. It is clear where it has come from. It is obvious what it is. But in the taking of this, by the eye of faith, I look into it and through it and beyond it, and there I am confronted again by the wonder of who Jesus is and what Christ has done. And I meet him in this encounter, because he has pledged to meet me here: “Here I grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace, and all my weariness on Thee I lean … Here would I feed upon the bread of God, here drink with Thee the royal wine of Heaven; here would I lay aside each earthly load, and taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.”
Now, Horatius was not saying as a result of a re-presentation of the sacrifice, but as a result of the reminder of the wonderful efficacy of this once-for-all sacrifice. When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life and he who eats of me will never hunger,” what do you think he meant? It’s a metaphor. “I am the door … I am the light … I am the bread … I am the living water.” Do you think for one single solitary second that when he took the standard Passover meal and offered it to his disciples, they thought for a nanosecond that what he was suggesting to them in the offering of the bread was anything other than bread? When he offered to them the wine, from which they had already been drinking, that he was thinking of anything other than wine? And when he said, “Here, this is my body, which is broken for you,” he wasn’t giving them his physical body; he was giving them an emblem of his body. “And here is my blood that was shed for you.” This clearly—they knew it wasn’t blood that was shed for them. They knew it was the cup. It was the cup of bitterness that he had drunk in Gethsemane and on, and it was the cup of blessing that they were now experiencing. Now the fact that man, over time, has transmuted that into a superstitious practice which has held millions of people in its sorry grasp, preventing them from a discovery of grace by the very mechanisms through which grace is pointed to, can surely only be an indication of the wiles of the devil: men and women kept from Calvary by that which apparently speaks of Calvary. Men and women kept from faith by that which is supposed to be the very apex of faith, going to a lost eternity, believing implicitly on something which is a product of the fertile imaginations of men but is not the clear teaching of God the Holy Spirit in the Bible.
And here we are in the beginning of the twenty-first century, and my friends, and my neighbors, and my colleagues, and my peers—many of them would come to me and say, “Alistair, you know, please do not go down this road. If you go down this road in these days that we’re living in, you know, you will sideline yourself. You will lose your influence. People will no longer listen to your radio program. You won’t have the opportunities that you’ve been beginning to get. Keep it down, son. Do yourself a favor. Don’t get involved in all of this stuff. Just leave it alone. Let everybody think that horses are cows and cows are horses. What does it matter to you? Just give them a few sermons and keep moving.” Listen, and listen to me: do you think I’m up here just on a fool’s errand? You think I take years off my life to preach in this way? To make enemies of my neighbors and my closest friends? This is either true or it’s false. And if it’s false, then forget it. If it’s true, then it must be heard, and the monuments of Scotland are replete—are replete! One of the reasons that this country is in the mess it’s in is because it is a post-Reformation country. By God’s grace it is, but nevertheless, there are no monuments, there are no people that died, nothing ever was given up for the gospel here. That’s why everybody thinks it’s just a gravy train. “Come and join this. This is easy.” It’s not that. It can’t be that.
And the last word is it’s an anticipation. It’s an instruction by which we obey Christ. It’s a commemoration in which we remember Christ. It’s a proclamation in which we preach Christ. It’s a participation in which we feed on Christ, and it is an anticipation in which we wait for Christ. And when you come to communion tonight and you take these symbols that point to something—a reality that is different and greater—that you come and take them and remember that, for your past, Christ has provided cleansing and forgiveness, and when Satan tempts you to despair, you tell him what Jesus did on the cross, and that you’re trusting in that. And in your present, when you take the emblems, remember that he grants to you fellowship and strength; and when you think about your future, that he promises to you assurance and joy.
You see, “the sign is secondary, [it is] outward … [it is] visible. The reality is primary, [it is] inward and [it is] invisible.” Please do not assume that because you and I know something of the sign, because to contemporize it even further, we have the icon that appears with regularity on our screen. The fact that it is there does not mean that we have signed on, clicked in, and participated in the sight to which the sign is pointing. And surely it would be the greatest of all crimes if we could take the very sign that is meant to point to Christ, and for that sign to become a mechanism that turns people from Christ. Surely, you would think that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Well now, let’s do baptism.
Let’s pray together:
O God our Father, grant that the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts will be found acceptable in your sight. Anything that is harmful, untrue, unkind, deceptive, manipulative—may it be banished from our recollection. And bring home to our minds and to our waiting hearts only that which is from yourself, and of yourself, and true to Christ and the word of the gospel we endeavor to convey. Come, Lord, to the church in our land in these days, and stir up your faithful from all kinds of nooks and crannies, those who have come to trust in you in the strangest and most unlikely places; those who have ceased to trust in you, that they may be quickened again; and those who have fallen asleep on the wheel under the sound of the preaching of the gospel. Lord revive us, we pray, that we may be as light in a dark place. For Jesus’ sake, we ask it. Amen.
 Source unavailable.
 Source unavailable.
 Ephesians 4:11–12 (paraphrased).
 Ibid., Section 1324.
 Ibid., Section 1327.
 Ibid., Section 1376.
 Ibid., Section 1366.
 Ibid., Section 1367.
 Ibid., Section 1371.
 Ibid., Section 1371.
 Hebrews 10:11-12 (paraphrased).
 Elize Edmunds Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1891).
 1 Peter 2:24 (paraphrased).
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed., 1992, Section 1378.
 Ibid., Section 1380.
 Exodus 20:4 (NIV 1984).
 Exodus 20:5 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 11:23–24 (paraphrased).
 Luke 23:42–43 (paraphrased).
 Luke 22:19 (NIV 1984).
 Source unavailable, as above.
 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV 1984).
 Augustus M. Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776).
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 Horatius Bonar, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee” (1855).
 James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 595.
 Ephesians 6:12 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.