Matthew 26:17-30 Part 4


Matthew writes only the simplest and most essential things. “Take.  Eat.  This is My body.”  Luke says, “Take.  Eat.  This is My body given for you.”  Paul writes (to the Corinthian Church), “Take.  Eat.  This is My body for you.”  (Some English versions of the Corinthian letter have, “Take.  Eat.  This is My body broken for you”; but the word “broken” is obviously a later addition to the text.  None of the Gospel accounts include the word; and since it was prophesied that Jesus’ body would not be broken, the inclusion of that word is therefore textually, historically, prophetically and doctrinally inappropriate.  Jesus’ body was not broken… the bread was broken so it could be distributed.)

The text (verse twenty-six) says, “…and when He had blessed He broke it.”  Mark and Luke both use the word “to give thanks” rather than “blessed”; and so does Paul.  But, rather than reading something into the word “blessed” and building a mystical theology out of it (as Romanism does) I think we ought, rather, to understand that the word “blessed” (eulognsas in this case) literally means “to say good things”; or “to praise.”  The implications and the connotation are nearly identical with the word used by Mark and Luke and Paul (eucharistnsas – having given thanks).

The Roman Church (and Lutherans and others to a lesser extent) has developed a theology of “mystery” with regard to the bread (and the wine).  And mystery breeds fear… not only because of the mystery, but also with regard to those who administer that “mystery.”

The Roman “priest” has that authority according to the theology and traditions of the Roman church.  By “blessing” (or by pronouncement, or consecration… that’s the force given to the word) the priest changes the bread into the very flesh of Jesus!  He’s the only one who can do that according to Rome.  And that gives him great power and authority over that which is, in their theology, the most mysterious, and most fearsome, aspect of the Roman catholic “mass.”  The theological term that’s used for it is “transubstantiation.”

But the issue here in Romanism isn’t “what the text says,” you see; the issue is mystery, fear and control.  The one who has the power dictates the terms.  The priest has the power to “conjure” up the flesh of Jesus (pronouncement, blessing).  And the terms are fear and abject submission on the part of Roman catholic people!  To them, the priest has the keys to heaven and hell… not only because he has the power to withhold forgiveness, but because of the power of transubstantiation!

Worshippers at “mass” kneel to pay homage to the “bread made flesh,” and to the one who accomplished that great miracle; and a little “wafer” is placed on their tongues.  It’s so holy that the common people can’t touch it (because they might drop it). 

Even more holy is the wine… it’s not even given to the people (because a drop might spill).  Wine is reserved for priests only!  And however much has been “consecrated” and changed into blood has to be completely consumed by the priests.  (And, as you might imagine, many Roman catholic priests aren’t available for ministry on Sunday afternoons.)

But there is such an “aura” of mystery built around the “bread” (and the “wine”) that the people actually fear not only the man who “changes” it but even the building where that occurs and where it’s stored!  When passing by the church building they will “genuflect” (make the sign of the cross), because parts of the body of Jesus, or some of his blood, might be in there.

Now, although there were many down through the history of the Church who wouldn’t hold to such things, the reformation of the Church was well under way by the late fourteen hundreds.  All the abuses of the papacy and the priesthood were made public and condemned by great men of the Faith such as Luther and Calvin.

And in these “reforming” Churches, with regard to the Lord’s Supper, transubstantiation was rejected as the worship of the creation rather than the Creator.  Common bread and wine couldn’t be mysteriously “changed” into the body and blood of Jesus, and elevated to the status of “deity.”  Bread and wine are “created” things; and created things, according to Scripture, must not be worshipped!  Our God is One God; and He alone is afforded the fear and worship of men!

But during the Reformation three different ideas developed concerning the Lord’s Table.  Martin Luther developed the concept now known as “consubstantiation.”  He said that the bread and the wine of the Supper weren’t changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus; but that the real flesh and blood of Jesus were over and under and around and in the bread and wine upon consecration by the priest!

Zwingli, on the other hand, said that the Supper was nothing more than a memorial of Jesus until He returns.  The result of this position is seen now in our more “baptistic” brothers who have reduced the Lord’s Table to a very minor ceremony in the life of the Church.

But the more Biblical (understanding of the text) theology is now seen in a smaller number of “Calvinistic” Churches.  Calvin said that the sacraments are described in Scripture itself as the “signs” and the “seals” of the covenant in Christ Jesus.  And a “sign” cannot be the thing itself.  In other words, if the bread is the “sign” of the covenant in Christ’s body, then it cannot be Christ’s body!  It can’t be both the sign and the thing signified!  The same is true of the wine.  It can’t be both the sign of the blood of the covenant and the blood itself!

And yet, he said, this is much, much more than just a memorial to Jesus until He returns.  The sacraments, he said, are visible and tangible representations, and visible and tangible seals of the Word of God.  The Truth of God’s Word (and he puts special emphasis on the “preaching”) is signified and sealed to God’s people in the sacraments.  And by Faith the body and blood of Christ are real and present in the “sign” (i.e. the bread and wine).

So, to this day Calvin’s understanding of the Lord’s Table remains the most faithful to God’s Word.

And I think that a good case can be made that there is a direct relationship between the proper administration and receiving of the Lord’s Table (on the one hand), and the Theological and practical maturity of the Lord’s people (on the other).

The case can also be made that those Churches in which the sacraments are Biblically administered and received are smaller!  The distinctions (specificities) that are made and responsibilities required in God’s Word become visible and evident in the sacraments; and self-centered, autonomous individualism “clashes” with those distinctions.

Therefore most of the mass of depraved humanity will choose either the “mystery” of Roman Catholicism or the “freedom” from covenantal distinction (Baptistic) – leaving the “Reformed” Churches very small.

And of course the churches in which the sacrament is administered unbiblically remain doctrinally very weak… preferring to deal with human existence on an experiential, sensual level.  That’s what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthian Church about their abhorrent condition!  He made the connection between their obviously weak spiritual condition and the improper celebration of the sacrament! 

But under the spiritual conditions (climate) of the society in which the protestant Church finds itself in 2005, each one of the Churches has to focus itself in one or the other direction.  The covenantal distinctions made visible in the sacraments must either be compromised (to allow people to be more comfortable), or the sacraments celebrated Biblically.  If the Church compromises, it may grow larger in numbers… and remain immature.  If it doesn’t compromise it will surely remain small.  But its people will be strengthened in the Faith!

But let’s not get too far astray from the text.  Our Lord said (with regard to the bread), “Take.  Eat.  This is My body for you.”

Now, the written Word (which the apostle Peter calls “more sure”) says that in the “last days” of the old covenant administration, God spoke by His Son – the Word Incarnate (in the flesh).  “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

And it was He Who, in the fullness of time, was born of a woman; and placed Himself (according to His Father’s Will) into the hands of the alien elders and priests and scribes of Israel – to suffer many things, and to be murdered, and the third day to be raised.  He ascended then, coming (from God’s perspective) in the clouds of Glory to receive dominion, power and a Kingdom.  As the apostle Paul said, “He was raised the Son of God with Power”; and He rules the nations until all His enemies are put under His feet.

And the God-man has sent His Spirit to tabernacle with us and build the new Temple of God upon the Rock which is Christ.  And that new Temple is the Eklesia – The Church!  By the Spirit and the Word this New Temple is to be built stone by stone, from faith unto faith, until (as the Scripture describes it) the new “mountain of God” fills the whole earth… and the knowledge of God covers the earth as the water covers the sea!

And by that same Word and Spirit, through the proclamation of the Gospel which has once been delivered to the saints, the elect people of God are called, justified and sanctified – being built up, through faith, into likeminded maturity – exhibiting the character and virtues of their Lord and King Jesus Christ!

This new “holy temple” of God – called the “body of Christ” – has a corporate intimacy with its Lord… so much so that the apostle Peter describes it as the New Temple made without hands – each of God’s elect being glorious, white “stones” in the structure; and each, with the faith and gifts given of the Spirit, performing the work of a priest in the Holy of Holies!

And in this New Temple of God it is the Spirit of Christ Who so intimately tabernacles with us.  And it is He Who, by the proclamation of the Word, gifts us with faith and causes us to be in such union with the Risen Christ that we actually “feed” on His virtues and all His perfections!  Through faith, Holy Spirit causes us to receive the Character of Christ and His Divine perfections; for, as Paul says, we who belong to Him are “in Him.”  This is exactly what Jesus Himself prayed for – as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel… that He would be in us and we in Him.

And this is how we recognize one another, isn’t it?  If one is In Christ, then one is receiving and exhibiting His Divine virtues!  This is what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit!”  The fruit is the character of Christ….  The Spirit always directs us to Christ, points us to Christ, connects us to Christ, causes us to be nourished by Christ in Whom we live and breathe and have our being!

There the “redeemed” man (or woman, or child) is always “killing” the “old man” of sin and putting on the “new man” who is Christ – the Second Adam!  In submission and poverty of spirit we repent of sin and destroy it that we may live in newness of life; we continually serve, with gladness and joy, in the Church built by our Lord – for it is the New Holy Temple of God, the Body of Christ; we are obedient to the Law of God, since Christ is the Fullness of the Law; we love one another and use our gifts for the edification of one another; we work for the fullness of the Kingdom of the Christ on earth, as prophesied by the Law and the Prophets – and by Christ Himself; and we persevere in the faith once delivered to the saints – even in persecution and hardship and suffering!  And we don’t neglect to gather ourselves together on the Lord’s Day to give public honor and glory to God Who has gifted us with such salvation!

This is how we know each other.  And this is how we judge whether a man is a brother in union with us in Christ… this is how we know he is likeminded.  We are known by these fruits!

And the Lord’s Table is the sign and seal of all of these things.  It’s a visible sign of our union in Him, and our “feeding” on the perfections of His Person.  This bread is the sign of His body! – this new body of humanity… of which His is the first ( the new Adam)!

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Church, we are all to “judge” ourselves before we come to the table; we are to involve ourselves in self-examination; we are not to come to the table “unworthily”; we are to “discern” the body of Christ; we are not to be guilty of the “body” of Christ!

So, what is the “body” of Christ?  What is it that we’re supposed to “discern”?  What is meant when Jesus says, “Take.  Eat.  This is My body”?

Is this bread here before us His flesh?  Or is it the “sign” of His flesh?  No.  It is the “sign” of His body!  Jesus became flesh (incarnate) in order to be man, and to die in our flesh.  Only the sacrifice of a perfect Man could redeem men.

But the Scripture never speaks in terms of our eating “flesh.”  We eat the sign of His body!  His body is His Person! – second Adam, new humanity.  When Jesus says, “Take.  Eat.  This is My body for you,” He meant that this is a sign of union in His Person… in His “being.”  It is the sign and the seal of being one with all that the Lord Jesus is, and He is the new human body! – the rebirth of humanity!

And as His body does incorporate the entire elect Church, it images the spiritual ingestion and corporate unity of the whole Church.  So that communion not only is a remembrance (a memorial), it is actually a means of grace whereby we are one with the Lord and, at the same time, one with one another!  We are the new race in Him!  The communion and fellowship is apparent and visible; the doctrine of the mystical union of the body of Jesus Christ gives meaning and reality to the Lord’s Table.  It’s more sure!  Communion with one another isn’t just symbolic… it is a real and certain oneness.  We don’t pray… my Father Who art in heaven….  We pray, “Our Father Who art in the Heavens….”

This is so very interesting.  Because here is the very essence of salvation and the Christian Faith.  The Lord Jesus Christ was put to death in the flesh of men.  But the realm of the dead – hades – couldn’t hold him.  He came up out of there (Bodily) victorious; and He ascended to the Father and became the Son of God with Power!  And Paul says that all of His people were crucified in Him; and we all came up out of death in Him; and we all ascended into the Holy of Holies in Him.

All of those things have already occurred, for us who belong to Him, because of our union in His body!

When we die, our “flesh” returns to dust.  But on the great day of Resurrection we will become new bodies!

Our present (fleshly) existence is determined by our father Adam.  It’s earthy, says Paul.  But on the day of Resurrection we will be a new body… determined by the second Adam – Christ!  And that body won’t be an “earthy,” “fleshy” body, says Paul, but a spiritual body.  We will be raised conformed to His glorified body!

Paul never speaks of the resurrection of “flesh”… he always speaks of the future resurrection of the body!  The Biblical term “body” refers to man created by God for His Own glory.  What is changed is body – not flesh.  It is existence; it is being; it is life.  We are made new creations in Christ… not like our life in Adam, but new creations in Christ, the second Adam – conformed to His body!

Jesus said, “Take.  Eat.  This is My body….”  Paul said that if we eat and drink, not discerning the Lord’s body, we eat and drink judgment to ourselves.  To “discern” means to understand in depth.  We must eat and drink at the Lord’s Table, understanding in depth the person of the Lord Jesus Christ:  His being, His existence, His purpose, His death, His resurrection, His ascension.  He is the Son of God/Son of Man:  He is King of the nations; He is Prophet Priest and King; He is Savior of the World – reigning in Power, Omnipotent in all the universe, Alpha and Omega, Full of Grace and Truth.

We must discern His body.  Our flesh, the old Adamic flesh, can’t inherit the Kingdom.  We must be reborn into the new, human body of Christ!  Our old depraved condition must be remade, recreated, rebirthed.  It must be put to death in the fleshly crucifixion of Christ, and it must be resurrected unto new life in Him!

And in eating these visible signs of His body and blood, we proclaim, by Faith, all the promises and the benefits which flow from the death and resurrection of Christ… Who is, Himself, the reality which was portrayed in the Passover Lamb.  The Covenant of God with Christ (for the salvation of His people) is signified and sealed in this sacrament; for by the gift of faith we discern the body and blood of Christ.  And by all the members of His body partaking of the one bread, we see the whole covenanted body drawing their sustenance and vitality from the One inexhaustible source.  We are truly in union with Him and we “feed” on Him.

And that most intimate relationship provides us the “bread’ of life.  It is His life, His being, that nourishes us and give us wisdom and holiness and justice and Truth and submissive obedience to Him.  It is His life that is our life; it is His body that is our very bread.  He rebirths us and makes us one in Him; and all of the excellencies of His Person are poured out to us in abundance.

The Scriptures call you to discern the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not His flesh… but His body.  Christ is risen from death.  And we are His body.  We are newly reborn humanity in Him.  And we are to proclaim to the world our membership.  In what way?  In the white robed army which follows the many-crowned Rider-upon-the-white-horse… Who has on His vesture and on His thigh, a NAME written:  “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,” and Who was seen by the apostle John going forth, “overcoming and to overcome.”

“Take.  Eat.  This is My body… for you!”