The Extent of His Love
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The Extent of His Love

Luke 22:7  (ID: 2330)

What would you do if you knew you only had a short time to live? Even though Jesus knew His crucifixion was near, He “eagerly desired” to share the Passover meal with His disciples. The same Jesus calls us to share His meal and fellowship today, lovingly desiring to be connected to us. Alistair Begg urges us to let this knowledge fill our lives, spurring us to fellowship with our Lord’s church and joy in His Supper.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 12

Feasts and Betrayal Luke 22:1–38 Series ID: 14214

Sermon Transcript: Print

God, we do need you to help us as we study the Bible now, that we could think, and listen, and understand, and apply, and emphasize, and note just all that that is necessary for us. We are incapable in and of ourselves, but with you we are okay. And so we ask for your grace and your help at this time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, we’re returning to our studies in Luke’s Gospel, as you can see. We’re at 22:7, and Jesus is approaching the final curtain. The devil has Judas firmly in his grasp, as verse 3 makes clear, and everything is now in place for the betrayal of the Lord Jesus. As a result, Jesus and the disciples are living with a heightened sense of security. It’s definitely an Amber Alert. If it’s not quite a red yet, it is certainly a matter of grave concern. Jesus understands—Judas understands—that there is a cat-and-mouse game which is going on here. There is a price on the head of Jesus, and all concerned are looking for an opportunity finally to snatch him and silence this prophet from Nazareth. Jesus is not fazed by this. He understands that everything is going according to plan, that the Father has put him in charge of everything, and so he is moving inexorably towards the cross.

Certainly, there’s a plan in place which is a plan of destruction, as verses 1–6 make clear. But that plan of destruction is more than matched by the plan of salvation which has been unfolding from the very beginning of the Gospel, at least as we have it recorded for us here. It’s not simply that the plan of destruction is counterbalanced by the plan of salvation, but, far more glorious than that, Satan’s schemes are actually woven into God’s plan and made to serve its ends. All of the darkness and all of the bitterness and the enmity towards the Lord Jesus Christ is being woven into the overarching plan and purpose of God. And although it may be the hour “when darkness reigns,” according to verse 53, nevertheless, the light that blazes out in the life of Christ is more than a match for the darkness. And as we saw in the prologue to John’s Gospel, the darkness doesn’t comprehend it, or better still, the darkness cannot overcome it, or even better again, the darkness isn’t able to snuff it out.[1]

And that, of course, is something that we need to remember as we read our newspapers, as we watch the television news, as we get older and we begin to say things that our parents and grandparents said—namely, “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for our children. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like for our grandchildren.” I’m not mathematically astute enough to know how many generations I’ve been involved with, but it seems to me I’ve been hearing that for a hundred years, and I’ve only lived for fifty-one. And the darkness, as it settles upon us, can be overwhelming at times. This little scenario here in Luke’s Gospel is a reminder to us that even though it may be that reign of darkness, apparently, that the light of the gospel is more than capable of dealing with it.

Now, the circumstances are clear. Jesus is hounded by the authorities. He’s about to be betrayed by one of his own. He’s en route to an excruciating death—the death of crucifixion—and yet here he is, at this point, concerned that the preparations for the Passover would go according to his plan. It is a wonderful reminder to us of the extent of the love of Christ for his followers. If you imagine that our circumstances were even remotely akin to these—if we were within hours of own death, especially such a cruel and a brutal death—I wonder how many of us would have any concern about our colleagues, whether we would be remotely concerned about what we were going to eat. Some of us, if we have a difficult day at all, are immediately off our food. Jesus is not off his food. He says, “Now, I want you fellows to go and make sure that the Passover has been prepared for properly.” John summarizes this in chapter 13 of his Gospel. He says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he [was] now show[ing] them the full extent of his love.”[2] “You want to see how much I love you?” says Jesus. “Then just listen carefully to what I’m saying, and observe what I’m about to do.”

The Intensity of Love’s Connection

Now, I’ve tried to summarize the verses before us under three headings. The first of these is the intensity of love’s connection. I’m not sure I like that phrase, but it was the best I could do in the time that I had. Certainly, intensity is important—the intensity that comes out when he says to them in verse 15, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” We’ll come back to that.

Two of the three who were involved in the transfiguration—namely, Peter and John (James was the other one, you will recall)—are enlisted with and granted the responsibility—verse 8—of making preparations so that Jesus and the disciples could eat the Passover. They knew that they would need to go shopping. There would be a lamb that was necessary, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, wine, and so on. But their main concern was: Where was this going to happen? And so they ask in verse 9, “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. After all, they didn’t have a little condominium somewhere that they’d been operating from. Jesus had called them and said, you know, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but if you hang with me, you better have a sleeping bag.”[3] And they routinely spent their nights out on the Mount of Olives,[4] awakening in the morning, looking down over the lights of the Jerusalem skyline, and oftentimes, surely, bleary-eyed and rather cold and looking for something to warm them at the start of the day. “Where are we going to do this? Where should we do this?”

Well, Jesus was actually ahead of them. As soon as they asked where, he was a man with a plan. And his plan for the Passover was more than matched by the plan of redemption which Luke is really preoccupied with. He says, “As you enter the city, [you’ll see] a man carrying a jar of water[. He’ll] meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters … say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make [the] preparations there.” They must have looked at one another and said, “Wow! That’s quite an answer. We said, ‘Where do you want us to go?’ and then we’re to look for a man carrying a jar of water.”

Can you imagine if somebody asked you, and you said, “Look for a man wearing a baseball hat, and when you see him…”? You say, “Well, which baseball hat is it?” And surely, if we went out into the community, there would be tons of people wearing baseball hats. That’d be no help at all. And we look at this, and we say, “You’re looking for a man carrying a jar of water? Surely that isn’t very specific. That’s going to take a long time”—until we read a little bit, and we discover that routinely it was a lady, it was a woman, that carried the jar of water, and men carried the wineskins of water, or the bottle—those hairy water bottles, you know, with the plastic tops that you get when you go to North Africa. That kind of thing. Rather naughty, actually, that the women should have to lug around these gigantic jars and the men could get off with this soft material close to their chest. Such is life—a rough deal, no question about it. But somehow or another, this man was going to be doing the woman’s work. He was going to be carrying a jar of water.

No service for the Lord Jesus is ever insignificant. No service for Jesus is ever irrelevant.

I thought about this man this week routinely. I don’t know; I find my mind going back to him. I hope he’s in heaven. I want to meet him. I’m sure, you know, in the course of conversation, we have a cup of coffee on the new earth together, and he’s going to say, “You know, by the way,” he says, “I was in the New Testament.” And it won’t be boastful; it’ll just be an acknowledgement of a fact.

And I’ll say to him, “Whereabouts were you? Tell me your name.”

He says, “Well, my name’s unimportant, but I was in Luke 22, and I was the man carrying a jar of water.”

“Wow! Quite a job, huh? You stood around with a water jar on your head?”


Well, you may feel—and just an aside—you may feel that your service for Christ amounts to little more than this. Nobody knows your name. Nobody probably will know your name. And you say to yourself, “Really, is there much point in doing what I’m doing? I spent last week, and this is what I did. I did it in obscurity.” Well, no service for the Lord Jesus is ever insignificant. No service for Jesus is ever irrelevant. And therefore, as you think on your role and as you think upon your responsibilities, recognize that in the great scheme of things, God has plans and purposes for each of us.

For those of you whose minds go along the lines of “Well, in verse 11, you’re just to ‘say to the owner of the house…’ Who’s the owner of the house? How does this work?”—not going to delay on this, but I did find this week that there is quite a body of material that suggests that the owner of the house may well have been John Mark’s mother and father. And there’s a wonderful investigation that you can do which ties in with… You remember the man running away, and his clothes getting pulled off, and he’s running naked from the tomb.[5] And you say, “Well, who’s this, and where was he, and where was he running from and to?” Go home and research it, and you will find that a body of evidence points to the fact that that, being Mark, may well have been the to and fro from his house. It’s really quite extraneous to our purpose, but it is interesting to consider.

Now, Jesus says, “Go.” They say, “Where?” And then, in verse 13, “They left and found things just as Jesus had told them.” “They left and found things just as Jesus had told them.” Now, the need for security has led to a measure of secrecy. Surely that’s the significance of this rather strange way of identifying the house. Why didn’t he just say, when they said, “Where would we make the preparations?” he said, “Mr. and Mrs. Mark’s house, 43 Straight Street”? What’s all the business about “You’ll find a fellow. He’s got a jug of water. You say to him… He’ll take you there. You say this. He’ll open the door. You go up the stairs, and you’ll be fine.” It’s about secrecy! Why?

Well, what do we know from verse 6? Judas, having consented to the plot, with a price on the head of Jesus, was watching for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. Jesus understands this. Judas is in the wings, waiting for a chance to say, “Forty-three Straight Street. Go to that house. You’ll find him there. He’s upstairs.” So Jesus says to the two, “If you go here and do this and that…” thereby depriving the other ten of the opportunity of knowing anything at all until, finally, they arrived in the location.

Well, was Jesus driven by fearfulness? No, he was he was moved by friendship. He was moved by friendship. He wanted privacy. And he wanted privacy so he could spend time with his dear friends. These were his companions. He’d been loving them from the beginning. He’d called them by name. He’d reached down into their lives, and they had become his followers. And he liked them. More than that, he loved them. He enjoyed their company, and he desired, with an eager desire… In fact, the literal translation of the Greek is “With desire I have desired”: epethumei, epethumēsa. The word which is used here for desire is the same word of the desire of the prodigal when he was starving in the pigsty and, in the King James Version, “he … fain [would] have filled his belly with the husks that the swine [were] eat[ing].”[6] In other words, he would just about have eaten his shoes if he’d had them. That is how much he longed for it. It’s the same word that is used in 1 Peter 1 that describes the angels longing to look into the issues of salvation[7]—as it were, on the parapets of heaven looking down and desiring with an earnest desire to be able to understand this dimension of salvation. That is the word which Jesus employs here: “I want you to know that I have been eagerly looking forward to spending this time with you.”

The Lord of the universe, who’d calmed the raging sea, turned water into wine, raised Lazarus, has an intense desire to spend the final hours of his life in the company of these people. Remarkable, isn’t it? I find it remarkable. And it’s a reminder that this same Lord Jesus, every day of our lives and every hour of the day, has pledged himself with an intense longing to be our Savior and our friend, our companion and our guide, and he is far more willing to grant to us the awareness of his intimate presence than any one of us are to take the time to seek it.

When he called the disciples, Mark says in 3:14 that he called them to “be with him”: “And he called the Twelve to be with him.”[8] In John 14, as he prays and declares his purposes—as John slows the action down in a way that the Synoptics don’t—he says, “You know, if a man loves me, he will keep my commandments. And the Father will love him, and we will come to him, and we will make our home with him.”[9]

Does Jesus live with you? Have we, this week, known his company, known his companionship? Have we awakened in the morning to the realization that Jesus loves me with an intense longing and that his love, it has a desire for connectedness? That in the reading of the Bible, he speaks to me, and I discover his will? That in the fellowship of his people, he reminds me of the way in which he operates? That in the singing of his praise, I discover the wonder, again, of who he is and why he’s constructed my life and all that he desires for me? That there is an intensity about this from the side of God, which is the remarkable thing? He wants to be with you.

When you think about someone of great significance, it’s fine, isn’t it, if we can create a context in which we might be with them? But isn’t it fantastic when they indicate from their side that they actually are far more desirous of being with us than we are of ever seeing them? And it gives us a fill-up to our pride and sometimes can make us downright obnoxious, depending on who the person is. But with Jesus, it’s wonderful. And today, he stands at the door of our lives, the door of our church, and he knocks. And he says that if we hear his voice and open the door, he will come in to us, and he’ll eat with us as an expression of fellowship and relationship and as an indication of his intense loving desire to be connected with his people. I have to remind myself of that all the time. I can get into a routine as good as the next person: the reading of my Bible as if somehow or another I got points for it; the attendance at church just to keep up pretense, you know—just to keep a good face on it.

“Come on now, Alistair. You must get up. You’ve got to go to church.”

“I do?”



“Well, you’re the pastor, for one thing.”

See, there’s all the difference in the world between going through the motions and connecting with the intensity of his love. And he conveys something of that here.

The Clarity of Love’s Instruction

Secondly, will you notice the clarity of love’s instruction? The clarity of love’s instruction.

The deliverance that comes by Jesus’ death is a deliverance from sin into eternal life.

The context, of course, is the celebration of the Passover. We could delay a long time on this, but we won’t. Suffice it to say that the Passover celebrated the deliverance of God’s people from the slavery of Egypt. I think most of us know that. Moses went to Pharoah and said, “Let my people go.”[10] You remember the plagues and, finally, the killing of the firstborn unless there was the sprinkling of blood on the lintels and the doorposts, and then the angel of death coming and wreaking vengeance on the houses and circumstances of all who were not covered by the blood. And every year since then, the people of God would celebrate, as per God’s direction, the fact that the angel of death had passed over the houses of those who were, if you like, under the blood.

And Jesus says, “I’ve actually been looking forward to sharing this particular Passover with you before I suffer.” And the reason is clear from the instruction he provides. Indeed, verse 16 is important: “I tell you, I[’m] … not [going to] eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” All that was anticipated and portrayed in the Passover was about to be fulfilled. If you like, Moses’s exodus from Egypt was about to be fulfilled in Jesus’ exodus.

Let me just point you to Luke 9 for one moment. You remember in the transfiguration, that when Peter, James, and John went up onto the mountain to pray—this is about verse 28—“as he was praying,”[11] his countenance changed and so on. And then we have the appearance of Moses and Elijah, appearing “in glorious splendor”—verse 31—and “talking with Jesus.” And what did they speak about? Well, “they spoke about his departure”—that the word there is “exodus.” “They spoke about his [exodus], which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” And we read that then, and James, Peter, and John experienced it then. They must have made a mental note of it and said, “Well, I wonder what this is really all about.” And now says Jesus, “I’ve been eagerly longing to share this Passover with you, because all that has been portrayed in it is about to be fulfilled in my death.” And the deliverance that comes by Jesus’ death is a deliverance from sin into eternal life. All the years of patient preparation had now passed, and it was before them.

Now, when you read Luke 22, when you read the account in Matthew and in Mark,[12] when you read 1 Corinthians chapter 11—the words of institution, as we refer to them, where Paul says, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: [that] the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and … he broke it[,] and [he gave it to his disciples, and he] said,” so on[13]—we’re dealing in terminology that, for any of us who have been around church buildings for any length of time, we’re familiar with it. We have perception of it. But we’re also dealing with material that has been the basis of terrific misunderstanding and provides for some of us a basis for an unjustifiable security. Some of us have been led to believe that if somehow or another we can just hang our hats, as it were, on the Eucharist, on Communion, on the Lord’s Supper, whatever else we do, whatever else we say will be more than rectified, more than clarified by our attendance at this simple feast. And indeed, some of us feel intensely guilty because we have come out of a background where that was everything to us, and now it means largely nothing to us, and every so often we say to ourselves, “I wonder if I’m on the completely wrong track.”

So, I want to pause for a moment and identify with you, first of all, the beauty and the structure of the Passover meal itself. This is my best attempt at this. Some of you who are from a Jewish background, I’m sure, will immediately be on your feet to help me out and to clarify things in a way that I’m unable to do. But in my own reading, this is what I’ve discovered: that the Passover meal… And incidentally, I have attended, at my Jewish friend’s home, the Seder as well, so… I tried my best to follow it when I was going through it, and some of you will have done the same.

There were several cups of wine which were drunk and which are drunk during the celebration of what is a very moving ritual. The first cup is brought in and drunk before the arrival of the traditional food. Incidentally, when you realize that there are four distinct drinking of the cups, this will help you when you go to Luke’s Gospel and he says… You’re trying to work out, “Well, I thought he said ‘the bread,’ but then he said ‘the cup,’ and then he said ‘the cup’ again. Then I thought that was after supper. The cup—what’s going on?” Well, the Jewish people would understand it perfectly, because they knew the nature of the Passover ritual. Gentiles, we haven’t a clue, really, what’s going on, so we need to go back and understand it.

The first cup was drunk before the arrival of the food. When the traditional food arrived, the youngest member in the household was then given the privilege and responsibility of asking the traditional question: “Why do we eat these foods on this night?” The reply was then given by the father or the elder member of the household, who would be conducting the Passover celebration. And in reply, the father would recount the story of the exodus. That would then be followed by the singing, or the chanting, or the repeating of some of the Old Testament psalms—not just any, but Psalm 113–115. Following that, the second cup would be passed around. And just before the meal was eaten, the plate of the unleavened bread would be lifted up, and the words would then be spoken: “This is the bread of affliction, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let everyone who hungers come and eat. Let everyone who is needy come and eat the Passover meal.” Then the father would give thanks for the bread. He would break off a piece for each person who was present, and then that in turn would be passed around the group until all had received. It was then customary for that bread to be eaten in silence.

But on this particular occasion, Jesus inserts something into the proceedings. And he doesn’t just say something; he says something of incredible significance. As they received the bread in the routine fashion, he says to them, “This is my body given for you; [I want you to] do this in remembrance of me.” Now, for us, again, because we’ve gone through this hundreds of times, it just passes over us. But for the disciples on this occasion, eating the Passover in the customary ritualistic fashion of the Old Testament Scriptures, this was a major intervention. There’s no indication of them saying anything, but they must’ve looked at one another and realized that Jesus was saying, “I myself am the Passover bread.” And they were bright enough to understand that he was saying that his life was going to be given as a substitute for the people.

When they ate the meal and that was then completed, the father would take the third cup of wine, bless it, pass it around, and then, again, they would sing from the Psalms—this time Psalm 116–118.

Now, it all seems very orderly, doesn’t it? In the Seder celebration to which I went, it wasn’t very orderly at all. My next-door neighbor, who was presiding over it, was having the hardest time keeping everybody together. Children were scurrying around underneath the table. Some elderly lady from somewhere in the Heights, when we were supposed to be rehearsing Psalm 116, she blurted out, “I see they’ve put a Nordstrom’s in.” And someone said, “Quiet, Auntie. We’re doing the Psalms.” And she says, “Yes, they’ve needed a Nordstrom’s for some time.” And in the midst of all of this, I’m just sitting there trying to do my best. And poor Fred, he’s got the steering wheel, but it’s not connected to anything, and he’s steaming towards the conclusion, hoping desperately to get to the end. And when he finally wrapped it up, then, of course, there was the drinking of the fourth cup of wine, which said, “Whew! Did it. We’re okay. Let’s get on from here.”

Now, at what point was it, then, that Jesus says, “I’m not going to drink any more of the fruit of the vine”? I think it was probably after the third cup of wine had been drunk. As the third cup is about to be drunk, Jesus introduces another new element to the celebration—says, “Gentlemen, just before we drink this, or as you’re about to drink it, let me just say something to you: this cup here is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

Now, again, think about this. The men themselves are routinely looking backwards to all that had been accomplished in the exodus. The blood of the lamb had been shed. The angel came, did not wreak vengeance and death on that home, because it was under the blood. And therefore, they enjoyed the liberation of the freedom and the entry into Canaan. They were looking back. But now Jesus says, “As you take this cup, I want you to know that this cup is the new covenant. In the past, your Father covenanted with his people in order to do this, but I want you to know that in this cup there is the very picture and portrayal of all that I am about to do in my exodus, in my departure, in my going through death for you.” And they were then to drink the cup as an expression of their communion with Jesus.

And the final difference was then announced. He says, “I’m not going to drink the fruit of the vine again until I drink it anew with you in the kingdom of God.” “Until we get together in that great messianic banquet” is probably what he means. And I think there’s a fair chance that he didn’t drink the fourth cup—that having drunk the third cup with them, and he said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” he took the fourth cup, the grand finale that brought the end to the Passover, and he left it on the table, and he says, “I’m not going to drink this anymore until we drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” In other words, he wasn’t truncating the Passover; he was pointing out that the Passover was leading to something far more significant and far more wonderful when, in this great celebration, God would gather his own from every nation and tribe and language and tongue and, in the great celebration of the Lamb, would rejoice in communion in a way that we could never know before. Okay?

Final Observations

Now, to the extent that that is an accurate representation, at least in part, of what was going on, we need to make some observations so that we can be clear about this. And here they are.

Number one: we should be absolutely clear concerning this notion of a “new covenant.” A “new covenant.” What Jesus is saying is that he is the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us. Paul actually uses that terminology when he is addressing the problems of immorality in the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthian 5:7. The point is that by his death, Jesus is accomplishing a new exodus. Just as the shedding of blood back in Egypt made possible the liberation of men and women from the bondage and enslavement of Egypt, so his death upon the cross was to make possible the liberation of men and women from the bondage of sin—to set the liar free from a lying tongue, to set the adulterer free from the residual impact of his folly. And by means of Jesus’ sacrifice, God binds sinners to himself and brings them deliverance from their bondage to sin. “Be of sin the double cure; cleanse me from its guilt and power.”[14] And in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus there is cleansing both from the guilt and the power of sin. It’s a new covenant.

Secondly, the focus in all that takes place is on Jesus, not on the bread and not on the wine. The focus is on Jesus. When Jesus said, “This is my body,” or, “This [cup] is my blood,”[15] the fact that he was present made it unmistakably clear that the elements to which he pointed were symbols of Jesus himself. Nobody would think anything other than that unless, over hundreds and hundreds of years, a philosophical presupposition had been so taught, so ingrained, so emphasized as to make people assume that what Jesus was talking about was actually literally the eating of his own flesh and the drinking of his own blood. The elements of bread and wine were symbols of Jesus himself; they were not magically transformed into something else. I’ll say more about this in just a moment, but it is vitally important to recognize that in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of Communion, the focus is not upon the elements but upon Jesus, who gives to us the elements.

Incidentally, can I just say a word about Communion at Parkside? We share Communion routinely on the first Sunday evening of the month. There is no credo in Scripture that demands that it be celebrated a certain number of times, whether morning, evening, or whatever it is. Some would argue that the pattern of the New Testament church demands that it be celebrated every week, every Lord’s Day, but what is described is not necessarily prescribed. It certainly isn’t reinforced in the Epistles. And so every local church has a measure of freedom as to its own particular program. And at the present time, as best we understand it, because of the logistics involved in the morning hour, we’ve determined that the evening hour is the best time for us as a church family to do this in remembrance of Jesus.

In the breaking of bread, in the sharing of Communion, the focus is not upon the elements but upon Jesus, who gives to us the elements.

If my colleagues are accurate in telling me the numbers of people who, amongst the larger crowd of people, are actually “in membership” at Parkside Church—who have come through the membership classes, who have identified themselves as wanting to be shepherded, as wanting to be committed, as entering into communion with Christ and with his people—if those numbers are accurate, then we have a significant issue in relationship to attendance at the Lord’s Supper. Because you know that I am a danger when it comes to arithmetic, but this is not too daunting for me. The average Communion service at Parkside involves about 1,000 or 1,100 people. Now, if there are actually 1,600 people in membership, that means that 500 of the 1,600 are clearly not here. But it’s actually worse than that, because we know that in our average Communion service, somewhere in the region of 50 percent of the people who attend are actually visiting Parkside—are external to its membership. So if that is true, then we have another 550 out of the 1,100, approximately, who, having committed themselves to the membership of Parkside, have joined the other 500. So we’re now at 1,050 individuals who have determined that they will not be present when we break bread together.

Now, if that happens to be you, then think this out. If it isn’t, then don’t involve yourself in any kind of vicarious guiltiness. But I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us think somehow or another that when Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” we have the legitimate freedom to say, “Yeah, okay, fine. I’ll get round to it.” And that kind of latitude in relationship to the Lord’s Supper is usually indicative of a latitude in relationship to the commandments of Christ in general, and it is one of the indications for our own moral flabbiness and our diffidence in living for Christ.

Thirdly, the Lord’s Supper underlines the importance of our communion with Jesus. That’s why I’ve said what I’ve said. It’s not about rules and regulations; it’s about communion with Jesus. You don’t want to miss people’s parties, do you? You don’t want to miss their birthday party. That’d be a dreadful insult to your children. It’s a dreadful insult to your wife, or to someone to whom you love, or to a member of your extended circle of friends. They sent the invitation out: “We’d love for you to be present.” You said, “Ah, forget that. It doesn’t matter. There’ll be somebody else there. Someone else will go instead of me. Someone else can take the place. I’m sure there’s a great crowd going. It’s irrelevant.” Well, if I respond in that way, what I’m saying is that the invitation is either disingenuous or my reaction to it simply reveals my heart—that I frankly don’t care whether I’m with the person or not; that I don’t care that they’ve extended such a generous invitation, that they’ve invited me to eat, that they’ve invited me to think, that they’ve invited me to be in in partnership with them, and so I just dismiss it.

“I’d love you to come on such and such a day to eat with me.”

“What is this, a regulation?”

“No. I invite you to come on such and such a day to eat with me. I love you. And I love spending time with you. And I was under the impression that you had actually, by your testimony in baptism, indicated that you love spending time with me as well. Sorry. I must’ve got it wrong.”

What are we doing when we share in the Lord’s Supper? We’re focusing on the new covenant. We’re focusing on Christ. We’re focusing on communion with Christ.

And finally, we’re doing so in such a way that we can look forward to all that he still has in store for us. In 1 Corinthians 11:20, he says that we are doing these things, we are “proclaim[ing] the Lord’s death until he comes.”[16] So, inasmuch as this provides us with an opportunity to remind ourselves of these things, I’ve done so.

And I want to take just a final moment to acknowledge that there is a tremendous amount of controversy, as I say, in relationship to these issues. And I have no interest in adding to the controversy. But in the issue of clarity, I want to tell you this again. When this stuff hits the radio, I get the most vitriolic mail. People tell me that I hate all these people and that I am an obnoxious individual with a dreadfully inflated opinion of himself. All of that may be true, but it’s certainly not true in relationship to the motivation for doing what I’m doing.

At least a third of you have come from a Roman Catholic background, bringing with you a mixture of notions about what happens. Some of your notions are still vague and unclear. The participation of some of you in Roman Catholic Masses declares the fact that you don’t understand what is happening in a Roman Catholic Mass. And if you think that what is happening in a Roman Catholic Mass is just a souped-up version of what is happening in a Protestant Communion, you’re wrong, and you need to know. And the reason you need to know is not in order that you might be able to malign people who do differently but in order that you might be able to rejoice in the reality of a new covenant of communion with Jesus and the focus on him and the anticipation of what it will mean to finally share in his presence.

Let me say this to you: traditional Roman Catholic theology asserts that in the celebration of the Mass, the body of Jesus and the blood of Jesus is literally present—that as a result of the consecration of the officiating priest, a transubstantiation takes place. And if you participate in a Roman Catholic Mass, you are associating willfully with this doctrine. That’s why I never would and I never will: because it is counter to what the Bible teaches. The final report of the Anglican –Roman Catholic International Commission, which is a recent commission, which is a very irenic statement of things, declares, “The elements are not mere signs; Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given.”[17] Okay?

At the same time, the understanding of the Mass—and I get so much mail about this, telling me that it is really wrong for me to say this—the understanding of the Mass is that in the officiating ceremony, what takes place with the body and blood of Jesus is a propitiatory sacrifice. In the Old Testament, there was a sacrifice for the removal of sin, which was propitiatory, and then there was a celebratory sacrifice, which was then offered up in recognition of the propitiation that had already taken place. The Protestant, Reformed understanding of the Communion is that Christ once and for all—read the book of Hebrews—has been offered up in his body on the tree[18] and has “once for all” made a sacrifice for sin.[19] Therefore, what takes place in Communion is not a propitiatory event at all, but it is a celebratory event, recognizing that it is done once and for all. Therefore, when we take the symbols and the elements, we look back to a once-accomplished sacrifice for all.

The Roman Catholic does not. The Roman Catholic is brought to the Mass because in the Mass—and I quote: “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass”—this is the Council of Trent—“that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross; the holy Synod teaches, that this sacrifice is truly propitiatory and that by means thereof this is effected, that we obtain mercy.”[20]

Now, listen, and listen to me carefully. Many of the Roman Catholic laity do not even know what their church teaches. So they call me, and they write me, and they say, “Nobody believes that anymore.” Oh? Well then, hey, come and join us! And the fact that there are conciliatory theologians keen to escape from the straitjacket which has been created for them in the Council of Trent, the Church’s official position remains unambiguous.

And that brings me to the third thing that they do which is clearly wrong: the adoration of the Host. The Host. The hostia, being the sacrifice. The bread. The ringing of the bell. The walking around with it. Why do they do that? Well, it is perfectly logical if transubstantiation is true. If, as a result of the consecrated work of the priest, this literal bread becomes the literal body of Christ, then of course we are to worship God. So if in that little chamber is God, then go ahead and worship. But if in that little chamber is nothing other than bread, then to worship it is idolatry, superstition, and all of the fear that attaches to it.

You see, when you raise your children and you teach them things, if you draw for them a horse without drawing for them a cow, then when you drive with them in the car, everything that they see that has four legs and has hair hanging down it at all will be referred to as a horse: “There’s a horse! Horsey! Horsey!”

“No, no, no, no, Hun. No, that’s not a horse. That’s a cow.”

“No, no, that’s a horse. You told me a horse looked like that. Why didn’t you tell me that a cow looked like that? If you told me that a cow looked like that, I wouldn’t be sitting in the back of the car being so silly.”

That’s the reason I do what I do here. Because I could go through these things and say to you that “the focus is on the new covenant; the focus is on Christ, not the elements; the focus is on the communion with Christ; and the focus is on the fact that one day we will celebrate this in eternity,” and everybody nods their head. And if I did postsermon interviews, I would discover that many of you were reading into the words that I said the very things that I’ve just described, which I don’t believe at all are taught for one small second in the pages of the Bible.

So, yes, we are a nondenominational church. But we are a Protestant church. And the indication of our nondenominationalism is not an expression of the fact that we simply believe whatever there is to believe. Our beliefs and our convictions are grounded in the historic Protestant faith—the faith for which martyrs died, and the faith upon which we take our stand, and the faith for which our missionaries in Bolivia today are under intense scrutiny and sometimes persecution. Therefore, because of all of this and more, it is crucial that we are clear that when Jesus said, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood,” that he meant what he meant and not what we’ve been told that he meant, and as a result of which we of the erring Protestant wing of the church will eventually be wooed back into communion with the synods when we’re prepared to think properly about these things. But until such times, we’re not welcome to share the Mass.

Well, every one of you is welcome to share the Lord’s Supper, provided you realize that in his death there was an exodus for your sin and that when you come and you take that bread and you take that cup and you share in those symbols, it is a reminder to you: “There was a day and a time in my life where I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And tonight, as I take this bread and this cup, I look back to the wonder of what he has done. And all of my confidence that I will one day be in heaven is not as a result of having been at the Communion service here tonight but is as a result of the fact that the Communion service here this evening has reminded me that ‘I need no other argument,’ and ‘I need no other plea,’ and ‘it is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.’”[21]

And in an age of increasing syncretism and confusion, I owe it to you to not only show you what a horse is but to explain that a horse is not a cow. Otherwise, you’ll go out and milk horses and ride cows. And that’d be really funny looking.

Father, we want to be students of the Bible. We want to be true to your Word. We want to know your help. We want to learn that in the sacrifice of Jesus there is a once-and-for-all atonement for all who will believe and trust in him. And so we look away from ourselves and from our routines, and we look to Christ.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon each one, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] See John 1:5.

[2] John 13:1 (NIV 1984).

[3] Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58 (paraphrased).

[4] See Luke 21:37.

[5] See Mark 14:51–52.

[6] Luke 15:16 (KJV).

[7] See 1 Peter 1:12.

[8] Mark 3:14 (paraphrased).

[9] John 14:23 (paraphrased).

[10] Exodus 5:1; 10:3 (NIV 1984).

[11] Luke 9:29 (NIV 1984).

[12] See Matthew 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26.

[13] 1 Corinthians 11:23–24 (NIV 1984).

[14] Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” (1776).

[15] Matthew 26:26, 28; Mark 14:22, 24 (NIV 1984).

[16] 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV 1984).

[17] Anglican–Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission, Agreed Statement on Eucharist Doctrine (1971), §10.

[18] See 1 Peter 2:24.

[19] See Hebrews 10:10.

[20] James Waterworth, trans., The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Œcumenical Council of Trent, Celebrated under the Sovereign Pontiffs, Paul III., Julius III., and Pius, IV. (London: C. Dolman, 1848), 154.

[21] Eliza Edmunds Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1891).

Copyright © 2024, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.