Communion, Covenant, and Commitment
“Communion, Covenant, and Commitment”
What does your life reflect that you are committed to? Some indicators might be your Outlook Calendar or your financial statements. It has been said that we are a generation that does not understand “commitment.” However, I heard someone else suggest that we are truly a people of commitment, but the problem is we are committed to inferior things.
The reason I ask the opening question is because of where we find ourselves in the life and ministry of Jesus. He is but hours away from the time that all of history anticipates. Jesus is headed to the cross. Mark has slowed down his narrative accounts of his life so that we can take a closer look at the things he wants to instill within his disciples.
There is intensity and specificity in the things he is calling his disciples to be and do. And it is of great value to those of us who are contemporary disciples of his to consider how we should respond – either like or unlike the disciples who have gathered around the table with Jesus.
We remember from last week that Jesus and his disciples had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Our drama began when the chief priests and scribes continued their plotting against Jesus and yet faced the challenge that Passover brought – a multitude of people who might be tempted to riot. But then they had a breakthrough! They actually acquired an accomplice who was one of his disciples. His name was Judas Iscariot.
And, though Judas may have stumped the other disciples, Jesus knew who it was who would betray him and why. It was all part of the divine plan of God. Jesus had to go to the cross. And this is the way that it was planned. But in the midst of the plotting and prophesying of these events, there was a story of an unnamed woman. It was here that we saw the contrast between one who would deny Jesus and the one who would give everything for him. To the chagrin of many in the room, this woman expended an entire flask of very important ointment on Jesus. And thus illustrated what being one of his disciples entailed – everything! She had recognized the supreme value of Jesus and deemed him worthy of her life.
It was in this context that Jesus sits with his disciples over this meal and institutes the practice of the Lord’s Supper. This occurs on the night when he will be betrayed. Jesus knows what is coming and needs to provide them with this observance that will carry on through the church to this day.
We are in Mark 14.22-31. Please turn there with me if you have not done so. READ.
The Lord’s Supper is identified by churches in different terms. Some refer to it as the Eucharist which means “to give thanks.” Others refer to it as the “table of the Lord” or as “Communion” as we do. Our first point is Communion.
The disciples find themselves “reclining at table” which we recall was a more intimate time of fellowship. In this setting Jesus takes some bread and says a blessing. He then proceeds to break off pieces (which was a common practice) and hand out them out to those at the table. And then when everybody has a piece of bread, he says, “Take it. This is my body.” And momentarily, Jesus will distribute a communal cup and say, “this is my blood.” And over these brief statements, the church has argued what it means throughout history.
We know from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that this practice of Communion is meant to be continually carried out. In fact, he uses many of the words recorded in this Gospel, as well as Matthew and Luke. So when the disciples utter these same words in the practice of the church, some believe that they are to be taken literally. That is, when Communion is observed in the church and when the elements are consumed, they literally are the body and blood of Jesus. This is what theologians refer to as “transubstantiation.” This is the view of Roman Catholicism.
A second understanding was one that was held by Martin Luther. Martin Luther believed that the body and blood of Christ were present “in, with, and under the elements.” In some way, they would be included within the bread and the wine. This is what is known as “consubstantiation.” So “transubstantiation” means transforms into those elements and “consubstantiation” means with the elements.
Then there is a third (and perhaps a fourth) understanding of the words of Jesus regarding the elements of communion. The two are similar in that they would maintain that they are symbolic references. When Jesus says, “this is my body” or “this is my blood,” he asserts that they represent such things. In light of the fact that Jesus is yet present as he declares these words, it would seem to rule out a literal understanding. Jesus uses similar language when he says that he is the door in John 10. He doesn’t mean that he is literally a door, but illustrates this aas a spiritual truth.
John Calvin would espouse one of these views, known as “spiritual presence.” He would suggest that it is a symbolic understanding and yet Christ is somehow spiritually present in the participation of communion.
And Ulrich Zwingli held to a “memorial view.” When Jesus says in some of the other passages that we are called to partake “in remembrance of” Christ, he means it is solely to reflect on the great truths of what happened at the crucifixion.
I don’t see much difference between these latter two. Here’s why: We know that Matthew includes Jesus’ words that when believers gather (two or three), Jesus is present in the midst. Understanding of course, that this is in the context of church discipline. However, the principle is universal. Jesus has also promised to be with us always. And so in worship, there is always a special spiritual presence of Christ – particularly when celebrating communion with brothers and sisters as a church family.
Within the meal, there was a cup that was shared by them all. (I would certainly have preferred my own). But they would pass it around the table and drink from it. And referring to its contents, Jesus says that “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Luke and Paul record Jesus as referring to the “new” covenant in his blood. These words would have conjured up the prophecies of Jeremiah 31 where there was a promise of this new covenant that would write the law on their hearts and would forgive their sins forever.
As you may know, under the old covenant, the Israelites had to repeatedly offer sacrifices for their sins. It was meant as a temporal provision until the Perfect Sacrifice would appear to pay for sins once and for all. Let me show you from Scripture. Turn to Hebrews 9.11. I want this passage to show you the insufficiency of the old covenant sacrifices and how the death of Jesus Christ introduces the new covenant.
Hebrews 9:11–28 “11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
One commentator adds, “Just as the blood of a sacrificial animal sealed the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai, so the blood of Jesus sealed the new covenant God made with his new people, the church, at the cross. Just as blood confirmed the death of an animal, so the blood of Jesus confirms his death. The blood/death of Jesus provided forgiveness of sins and right relationship with God. The old covenant sacrifices anticipated the sacrifice of Jesus and depended on his death on the cross for validity.
And so, even before the events take place, Jesus says that this cup of wine represents my blood that will be shed on the cross. And it will be quite an event! And it will fulfill all prophecy. It is meant to alter everything! For when my life is offered up, a perfect provision for sin will be introduced. There will no longer be any need for any sacrifice at any time!! It will all be paid! This is the new covenant that has been anticipated throughout history.
But understand that this was not some mild method of killing, but in crucifixion, Jesus would face a violent death. And this is indicated when he said that his blood would be “poured out.”
Jesus’ blood would be poured out for “many.” I don’t believe that this infers that his blood is poured out for “some” and not “all.” We saw in Mark 10.45 that Jesus, as the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. In the Hebrews passage we just looked at, the author writes that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. In Isaiah 53.12, the prophecies from hundreds of years prior speak of the Messiah bear the sins of many. Remember the innumerable sacrifices that the Israelites had to perform year after year. Under the new covenant, this would no longer be the case. For the Messiah would come and offer one sacrifice for many. It is emphasizing the magnitude of the one sacrifice.
In verse 25, Jesus concludes that this will be the last time that he will drink of the fruit of the vine while on earth with his disciples. Notice the certainty in these words. Jesus has tremendous confidence that despite his impending death, he is certain that he will return to reign in the kingdom.
Jesus is seemingly relishing the last moments with his disciples, and at the same time thinking ahead to that day when history will come to a close and the kingdom established. Matthew 8:11 “11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” There is a future kingdom that we long for. But it is also what Isaiah the prophet envisioned. He wrote, “Isaiah 25:6–8 “6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” And also the apostle John would record the visions from Jesus when he writes in Revelation 19.6-9, “Revelation 19:6–9 “6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. 9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” This is what is anticipated in Jesus’ words.
Communion is a remembrance of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 11:24–25 “24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Communion is also a means of proclaiming his death. 1 Corinthians 11:26 “26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Communion is a means of communion with Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:16 “16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” And communion is also a symbol of the oneness of God’s people. 1 Corinthians 10:17 “17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
This is why the celebration of communion is vital for the local church. It continually reminds us of the great sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and how it relates to us as brothers and sisters who declare his death until his return. The church at Corinth abused this sacred ceremony and was reprimanded for it. And Paul gave them instruction how to appropriate it so that they glorified God in their unity.
Our second point is Commitment and Denial. After celebrating the Lord’s Supper with Jesus, they respond with singing a hymn. Then they leave the table and head toward the Mount of Olives. And after this very intimate time of fellowship over a meal, Jesus tells them that they will all fall away. Jesus has just informed them of the coming of the new covenant where sin would be dealt with in his sacrifice. He told them to partake of the elements and how they would remind them of this great sacrifice. He even assured the disciples that they would one day participate in the kingdom and drink the fruit of the vine again with him. That’s the way Matthew puts it. Jesus would drink it with them in the kingdom.
And now he says they’re all going to fall away. And somehow this will fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 13. Not only that. But do you see who it is that will strike Jesus the Shepherd? Does it say the Romans? Or the Jews? It says “I!” Who is “I?” God, the Father.
Do you remember last time when we discussed the nature of the plotting by the chief priests and scribes? We thought it ironic that they thought they were up to some dastardly plan to destroy this troublemaker Jesus. And all along, they were merely playing into the plan of God. In fact, Jesus even predicted who it was who would betray him. In the next section, Jesus will inform his disciples when it is he will be betrayed. And then he identifies him in verse 42.
Repeatedly, Jesus informs his disciples (and us through his Word) when things will happen so that they will not be taken by surprise, but will remain steadfast. But it appears that it will not have that effect immediately. For Jesus says that very soon, they will leave him. They will be scattered. In light of the promise to drink the wine in the kingdom with his disciples, we note that this will not be a permanent abandonment of Jesus, but a temporal one. In fact, Jesus says that after his resurrection from the dead, he will go ahead to Galilee and will meet them there.
But Peter will have none of it. He is adamant and even calls out his friends. Filled with pride and folly, he blurts out, “they will let you down. But I won’t!” Luke records him as saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” As we will see further in the chapter, he cannot even stand up to a servant girl – let alone imprisonment or death! Jesus tells him that he won’t even make it until the morning before he denies Jesus. Peter will deny Jesus three times before daybreak. But Peter insists, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And everyone agreed.
This caused me to think of how we may also fall prey to this false sense of security or pride. Can’t we relate to Peter? Aren’t there times when we can be so dedicated to Jesus (or at least claim to be) that we think nothing will shake our faith and devotion to him? We can have these great devotional times in the Word and prayer. And then circumstances change… We can have a powerful time worshiping in songs and prayer and the Word and then we can leave the worship service only to find ourselves giving into temptation once again – and essentially denying our Lord Jesus. It may even come on Communion Sunday. As we reflect on the life-changing truths of how the cross has changed us for eternity. We confessed our sins to him and were restored by his forgiveness. And then it doesn’t take much until we forget that renewed commitment to serve him with our very lives.
I think it is good for us to see Peter and the disciples and their failures. Because their failures are our failures. One thing that has been highlighted for me throughout the Gospels is those dense disciples… Why didn’t they get it? How could they be so proud? And arrogant? How were they so forgetful? Didn’t they just see Jesus at work? forgiving? And healing? And teaching? They… are… us…
There is great warning for us in this account as well. Peter, ever so bold, and yet so impulsive... He didn’t seem to think things through to the end. He didn’t consider the events immediately to follow and the temptation to succumb to the fear of man. He didn’t fully count the cost of following Jesus. And the persecution to follow...
What will we do when the shepherd is struck? Or the church is attacked? Will we scatter? Or will we remain faithful? In the same way that it was certain the shepherd be struck, so the church will be persecuted because of the Shepherd. Have you counted the cost of following him? Jesus is worth the persecution you know!
In addition to the great warning, there is great comfort in the words of Jesus. Look back at verse 28. For those who are truly his disciples and temporarily succumb to lose their courage, there is hope of restoration. Jesus, with great compassion, knowing that his closest friends would abandon him, says that he will revisit them after he is raised from the dead. He will forgive and restore them. And beyond that, they would serve as his faithful ministers to establish the church that would proclaim the gospel to the known world. Don’t you find this encouraging? And overwhelming? Just like them, God continues to use weak creatures to powerfully spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth!
Perhaps the true test of the genuine believer and the one who merely pays lip service to Jesus are the words found in verse 31. Can you say the words Peter spoke and remain true to them? If we must die with Jesus, we will not deny him! This is the potential price we must pay. Even if we are not privileged to die physically for him, we are called to die spiritually to ourselves and live completely for him. I pray that you would do so today! Let’s pray.