Remembering Christ in Communion – 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
The 21st message in the 1 Corinthians Study.
(Find the other messages from this series here)
The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum. In 1632 by the Shah Jahan commissioned the project to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died at the age of 37 giving birth to their 14th child. The tomb is the center piece of a 42-acre complex. Construction took 19 years and the work of 20,000 artisans. At the time is was estimated to cost 32 million rupees, which would be the equivalent of $827 million today.
The Taj Mahal is considered one of the seven wonders of the world and has between 6 and 8 million guests every year. It began as an effort to remember Mumtaz Mahal. It’s a monument to the Shah’s love for her, his favorite wife. Most people however know little about her, but they know of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal’s splendor has eclipsed her in history. 6-8 million per year visit to see the structure, not to remember the woman.
In Corinthians 11, Paul scolds the Corinthians believers because they have allowed a tradition that is supposed to point to Jesus to become their focus. What was supposed to remind them of Jesus was actually eclipsing Jesus and His message in their gatherings. It’s so bad, that Paul says I’d rather you didn’t even meet for worship if you are are going to go about it in this way.
1 Corinthians 11:17
Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse.
You come together for the worse. It would be better if you didn’t meet if this is how you are going to meet…
Paul gives a glimpse into what is going on in verses 18-22.
So the problem was taking place when the Corinthians came together to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper points to the final meal that Jesus had with his disciples. In that final meal they had Jewish Wine and Unleavened Bread which was a traditional Jewish passover meal, but Jesus gave it a new significance in that final meal the night before he was executed.
Ever since that last supper with the disciples, followers of Jesus have taken unleavened bread with juice of the vine or wine to point back to new significance that Jesus gave it with that final meal. Today, we commonly call it communion.
The Corinthians were participating in this tradition as well, but Paul wished they would stop because they were following the custom with the wrong motives.
Communion and Symbols do not save us.
I’m sure that some Corinthians thought, “wait, What?! You would rather we didn’t get together? Paul don’t you realize that we are gathering and taking communion like you taught us? Why would you want us to stop?” I’m sure that many of the Corinthians were proud of the fact that they were gathering regularly to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was distraught because they were gathering for the meal, but doing so with an obvious lack of appreciation for the meaning of the tradition.
When a tradition loses its significance, it becomes a distraction.
Paul realized that the Corinthians were not participating in Communion for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of communion. Paul says, listen if you are just coming together to eat a meal, don’t you have homes that you can do that in? If it’s just another meal to you, if it’s just an opportunity to eat and drink, do that at home. This is supposed to be something much greater than that…
Paul knew that they were not approaching communion with the right motives because their practice had become selfish. They were rushing ahead of one another, and some were getting full and even drunk while others were going hungry. It appears that the Corinthians were gathering for the Lord’s Supper and not taking a modest bite and sip, but rather treating it like a feast.
It also appears that in the Corinthians church, there was a division between the rich and the poor, those who had much to bring to the meals and those who had very little. Apparently those in higher classes were able to go first, and perhaps feeling justified but the fact that they had brought more, they were taking more, but when the poor and lowly came to participate there was little to nothing left.
Paul says, this isn’t a picture of the gospel which is for all people. You are completely missing what this is all about.
Here’s the application for us… Church attendance and participation in worship are useless if our motives are not right. Paul does not commend them for going through the motions. He doesn’t want them to stop meeting for worship, but if they are not going to gather to point to Christ, to remember Christ, to worship Christ, they might as well not gather together.
If our worship does not point to Jesus it is empty.
This morning I want nothing more than for us to point to Jesus, because He is what this is all supposed to be about. Paul makes that clear in the next verse when he reviews with them why they participate in communion.
I want you to notice a few phrases.
24: this is my body, which is broken for you:
25:This cup is the new testament in my blood:
Communion and symbols don’t save us, they merely point to Christ’s Sacrifice and it is Christ’s Sacrifice which saves us.
Christ’s Sacrifice saves us.
Jesus said, this is my body which is broken for you. The next day Jesus would be beaten and hung on a cross, the Roman form of tortured execution. The practice of crucifixion was a highly visible, highly painful form of execution that the Romans used to put fear into the hearts of all the people they conquered. The word excruciating comes from the greek word for crucifixion.
It was a painful death. Christ’s body was broken. Scripture says that he was beaten and broken to the point that his visage was unrecognizable.
Jesus said, my body which is broken for you. His body was broken, and it was broken for us.
Jesus took the bread that night, and he broke it apart.
He tore it apart and handed it to the disciples.
He broke off pieces and handed it to them. Broken, for you.
Broken so that you may benefit.
Broken so that you may have some.
Broken to that you might eat…
They then took those pieces of bread and broke it down further between their teeth so that they could be fed…
Christ said, this is my body broken for you. The same passage that spoke of Jesus being beaten to the point that he was unrecognizable also said that by his stripes- by his beating, we are healed. Later it says, upon him was laid the iniquity of us all.
Jesus was broken so we could be made whole.
You see, the breaking of Christ’s body was not something tragic that happened to Him, but rather it was a breaking and beating that he accepted so we could be made whole. It was a death he submitted to so that we could have life.
Jesus submitted to death so we could have life.
Scripture says that we have all failed. We’ve all failed to meet God’s high standard- His perfect standard. Furthermore is says that we are unable to make up the difference. Many people are willing to accept that they are not perfect, but they believe that if they work hard to do good, if they endure some punishment, that eventually they will make up the difference with goodness or pay off the difference with suffering…
Imagine this, imagine I said to you I need this large cistern filled with water, the only way you will be able to pay off what you owe me is if you fill this container with water. You say, I’ll get to work right away, and you start off to a well with a clay pot. You know it will take a long time, but if you work hard and stay at it, hopefully you’ll be able to get it done before you run out of time… But on the way to the well you trip, you fall, and you drop the pot and it cracks. It doesn’t shatter, but it cracks. You’re distraught, but you hope that it’s in decent enough shape that you’ll still be able to use it… You dip it in the well, it’s brimming with water, you start the walk back to the cistern, water spilling through the crack, and before you are halfway back, it’s empty. You go back to the well, fill it with water and run as fast as you can back to the container, but even running your hardest there nothing left in the pot when you reach the cistern. Not only is there a big job to do, you don’t have the means to do it.
The gap between our condition and God’s standard is great and we have no means to close the gap.
Not only is there a big gap between us and God, we do not have the means to bridge it. Christ is different. Christ went to the cross, not broken by sin. He had never sinned. Christ went to the cross unbroken and perfect and then he was broken for us.
We have no means of closing the gap between our condition and God’s standard, but Christ is the means.
In verse 25 Jesus said of the cup, this is my blood which is the New Testament. The word for testament means promise or covenant. Christ’s body was broken and His blood was spilt so that He could offer this new arrangement or promise to us. Trust in me and I will make up the difference between you and God’s standard. That’s the covenant. That’s the promise.
Sealed with the very blood of Christ. Paid for with the very body of Christ. It’s Christ’s Sacrifice that saves us. It’s not tradition or good deeds. It’s not church services.
Everything we do should point to the sacrifice of Christ because that is what saves us. We must never forget that….so
Communion and Symbols Remind us of the sacrifice of Christ.
Christ said, do this in remembrance of me. That’s on the table here in the front because communion is to be in remembrance of Him. We do not meet today to take communion, we meet today to remember Christ and communion is how we will do that today.
Verse 26 says, as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you show the Lord’s death- His sacrifice.
That’s what we are doing, we are pointing to the sacrificial death of Christ.
If you walk away with all of the trappings of church, if you walk away knowing some Jesus songs, and hearing a Bible sermon, and participating in Lord’s Supper, but you don’t leave with Jesus….you’ve missed it.
Because Communion is meant to remind of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we should participate with humility.
Paul says, some of you are participating in communion and it’s just a big game to you. You are not taking it seriously. You’re looking around and you are pretty proud of yourself, how good you are, how you participate in communion, how well off you are… He said, if you come to communion and you don’t take it seriously, you’re not taking the sacrifice of Christ seriously. Some of you don’t think you need to take it seriously because you are pretty good in comparison to others. Some of you don’t take it seriously because you don’t take your sin and brokenness seriously… In verse 30 Paul says, there are some of you who are sick and some who are dead because of the way you’ve been treating the practice of the Lord’s Supper…. Let a man examine himself… Your participation in communion isn’t about anyone else…
It’s not about whether your are better than someone else, it’s not about if you’re more moral or generous or kind than someone else…It’s about you and Jesus. So let a man examine Himself and drink this cup and eat this bread worthily…
HOW? How can I look at my own heart and come to the decision that I’m worthy to participate?
Because of Jesus.
Not because of me.
Because of Jesus.