1 Corinthians 11:23-32
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 6, 2023
Have you ever received unclear directions? Would you feel confident that you would find your destination on time if you weren’t sure what the nice stranger meant by, “Go down the road a ways and take a turn at the second or third stop and drive a bit farther until you see a big oak or fir tree and then turn again and drive a ways until you think you’ve driven too far and then drive a bit farther before doing a U-turn.”? You’d probably look for directions from someone else. And clarity is important for faith. How can we believe if we are unsure what is being offered? So, it is important for us to know that the Words of Institution are clear words. The New Testament provides four accounts of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper, and while they do differ slightly, all four of them clearly state that what you are given in the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s body and blood. He never says that the bread and wine represent His body and blood or are a symbol of His body and blood. In every account, Scripture records Jesus say, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.” You may say that you do not believe these words, but you cannot claim that they are unclear. Jesus intends for us to believe that He is giving us His very body and blood.
Now, it is certainly clear that Jesus is telling us that the bread and the wine He feeds us are His body and blood, but why should we believe that? Our eyes, nose, and tongue tell us that it is only bread and wine. Well, because it is not just anyone telling us this is his body and blood. It is Jesus Christ, true God and man who tells us this is His body and blood. The Apostle Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” The Lord Jesus Himself told Paul what the words of institution are and when He first said them, on the night in which He was betrayed. Jesus is God. He proved Himself to be God when after being crucified and killed and laid in a tomb, He rose again from the dead three days later. Jesus teaches us that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:36). If Jesus is able to be both God and man, then He certainly can give His body and blood to us to eat and drink. It is a miracle, yet we expect miracles from Jesus.
So, to deny that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood means to reject what Jesus, the Godman clearly says. Yet, it is not sufficient to know what the Lord’s Supper is. We must also know what benefit it gives us who eat it.
The chief benefit of eating the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus clearly says that the body He gives us to eat is “for you.” What does He mean by “for you”? He means that this is His body, which was given into death on the cross for you (Luke 22:19). Jesus lay down His body in death to pay for our sins. St. Luke records that Jesus’ blood is “poured out for you.” Saints Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying, “poured out for many,” and Matthew adds, “for the forgiveness of sins.” This body and blood, which is fed to Christians by Jesus Himself is the same body and blood, which were nailed and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore, Christians eat this body and blood in the Sacrament primarily to receive the forgiveness of sins Christ won for us on the cross. This means that the Sacrament of the Altar is a medicine of immortality, which promises life and salvation to all who believe it.
The Words of Institution are also Jesus’ last will and testament, which gives us certainty that Christ is with us, personally and bodily. Therefore, the Sacrament increases our faith in Christ. Also, Jesus’ body and blood cannot be divided. Each communicant receives the same body and blood of Christ. This means that the Communion in the Sacrament is not just between you and God, but between you and every other communicant. This is why we pray after communing that God would by this Sacrament increase our faith toward Him and our fervent love toward one another. This Sacrament promises to increase our faith toward God and our love toward one another.
So, on this holy night in which our Lord Jesus was betrayed, we remember that in Christ’s last will and testament He gave us the medicine of immortality, which forgives our sins, strengthens our faith, increases our love for one another, and unites us to Christ even as we live here on earth. Therefore, we should highly prize this Sacrament and receive it often for our eternal benefit.
Yet, St. Paul adds a warning to this medicine of immortality. As with other medicines that can harm a person instead of heal him if it is taken improperly, so also can the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood be taken improperly to the communicant’s harm. St. Paul adds, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
So, with this solemn warning, we ask ourselves, “How does one examine himself?” Examination involves you asking three things of yourself.
First, do you believe that the Lord’s Supper is the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ? Most people who reject the ancient teaching of closed Communion also reject the teaching that the Sacrament of the Altar is Jesus’ true body and blood. Yet, St. Paul does not say that if a person eats or drinks unworthily that He is guilty concerning the bread and wine, but rather, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Denying that the Sacrament is Jesus’ body and blood does not save you from guilt any more than denying the potency of medicine will save you from misusing it. The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ true body and blood whether you believe it or not, because Jesus says it is. Yet, only through faith do you receive the benefits of Christ’s body and blood. If you do not recognize that you are eating the body and blood of Christ, then you are eating and drinking judgment on yourself. St. Paul tells us to discern the body. For this reason, no one who doubts that the Sacrament is Jesus’ true body and blood should take the Sacrament.
Second, do you repent of all your sins and desire to receive this Sacrament for the forgiveness of your sins? Jesus gives us His body and blood, which were given and shed on the cross, for the primary purpose of forgiving our sins. This means that if you do not desire forgiveness or if you refuse to repent of your sins, then you would receive Christ’s body and blood to your own judgment. Again, only faith receives the benefits of the Sacrament. But if you refuse to repent of your sins, then you do not truly desire forgiveness. And if you do not desire forgiveness, then you are not prepared to receive the Sacrament.
Notice that a particular sin doesn’t make you unworthy of receiving the Sacrament, but rather impenitence does. If a murderer or an adulterer repented and desired to receive the Sacrament for the forgiveness of sins, he could receive it for his eternal salvation. Yet, if a person continues in his sin without repenting or doubts that the forgiveness of sins is given in the Sacrament, then that person will not receive forgiveness, but judgment. So, if you recognize your sins, you should not avoid the sacrament, but flee to it for comfort and forgiveness, but if you cling to your sins, then you should not receive it until you repent.
Finally, do you confess what is taught at the church where you are communing? St. Paul teaches us, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” This means that when you commune at a church, you are confessing what that church proclaims about Christ. Obviously, you should not commune at a church, which denies that the Lord’s body and blood are present in the Supper. Then you would be making a contrary confession about the Supper than what Christ makes. Yet, that is not the only false teaching you should be aware of. There are churches, which deny that the Scriptures are the true Word of God, which claim that babies should not be baptized or that you need to do good works to be saved. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) calls itself Lutheran, yet they publicly deny that Jesus is the way, truth, and life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. So, you should also not commune at a church, even if it claims to be Lutheran, if it teaches such false doctrine. All false teaching comes from Satan. So, you should not confess any false doctrine by communing at a church, which teaches false doctrine. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”
This does not mean that everyone who worships at a non-Lutheran church is an unbeliever or worships demons, but rather that it is wrong to confess false doctrine. And when you commune at an orthodox church and then at an unorthodox church, you are making contradictory statements in God’s name, which is breaking the Second Commandment.
Every Christian who desires to receive Communion is obligated to examine himself every time before communing on the penalty of eating and drinking to his own judgment. Pastors are also required to withhold the Sacrament from those who are knowingly unprepared to receive the sacrament. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” And our Lutheran Confessions quotes fourth century Church father, John Chrysostom, “the priest stands daily at the altar, inviting some to the Communion and keeping back others.” (AC XXIV) Therefore, pastors should not give Christ’s body and blood to those who publicly deny the real presence, are living in open sin, or commune at heterodox church bodies.
St Paul gives these warnings against unworthily receiving Christ’s body and blood, so that we will examine ourselves and receive the Sacrament in faith. The point is not for people to avoid the Sacrament all together or for people to be banned forever! Rather, the point is for you to receive the Sacrament to your full benefit, so that you are certain that God forgives your sins for Christ’s sake, that Jesus is with you even now, so that your faith in Christ will increase and your love toward your fellow Christians would be warmed. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus replaced the Passover feast of the Old Testament with a meal of the true Passover Lamb, so that we might always be in Communion with Christ. Amen.