—transcript of a Lord’s Supper sermon by Rev. James Laning—
Hope Protestant Reformed Church
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Dearly beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, it would be easy to describe the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper and to forget the truth concerning the covenant. To say, merely, that eating the bread and drinking the wine pictured eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus Christ by faith, and to leave it at that as a summary of what the Lord‘s Supper pictures. It is easy to forget the central significance of the fact that the covenant, and the truth concerning the blood of the covenant is central to the Lord’s Supper. That Jesus, when he instituted the Supper, made a specific reference to the covenant, or, testament. That He took the cup and He gave thanks, and He said, “This is my blood of the new testament.” My blood of the New Testament. Or, as we have it elsewhere, that He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood,” and made a specific reference to the covenant, or to the testament.
I say covenant, or testament, because it’s actually the same word in the Greek. It’s translated sometimes as covenant, and other times as testament. So the word here is the word for “covenant,” but it is translated here “testament” because of the fact that there is a specific reference here to the death of the testator. But the covenant is also referred to as a testament. A testament is a will that goes into force when the one who makes it dies. The death of the testator means that the testament is in force, as we read in the book of Hebrews. And as Jesus is referring here to the blood of the new testament, there is a reference here to His death, and that through His death the blessings of the covenant will come to all those to whom it is promised in that covenant.
The blood of the new testament—the blood of the covenant. It’s important to see that here we have a reference to the covenant, and that references to the covenant are relatively rare in the gospel narratives. That may be surprising to us. We might’ve thought that it would’ve been the case that when Jesus came and as He preached, that we would’ve found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John an abundance of references to the covenant, but that is not the case. That we read of Zacharias speaking about the covenant when he is able to speak again, at the very beginning we read that as his mouth is loosed, that he praises God for remembering His covenant as He is now sending the forerunner, and then sending the Messiah. But then when Jesus preached, He always spoke of the kingdom, and He spoke parables about the kingdom. But when we get to the subject of Christ’s death, then we specifically find this reference to the covenant. And that Jesus, as He was sitting with His disciples, having spoken a number of times about His coming death, now specifically connects that death with the truth of the covenant, and refers to His own blood as the blood of the new testament. And we consider that this morning.
We consider it under the theme, “The Blood of the New Testament,” considering first of all the meaning, secondly, the drinking, and thirdly, the blessing. “The Blood of the New Testament.”
We pointed out that by referring to the blood of the new testament, there’s a reference to the fact that blood had to be shed for the new testament to be in force. For the blessings of the new testament to come to God’s people, there had to be an atoning sacrifice. We read of that in Hebrews 9. In verses 16 and 17 we read that “where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator,” (the one who makes the testament). “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”
And then there’s a reference to the Old Testament, in the days of Moses, that it was dedicated with blood, pointing to the fact that the covenant, or testament, to be in force for the blessings of that covenant to go to the people to whom it is promised, the testator must die. Just like when one writes a will and when he promises in that will, when he says he desires his possessions to go to certain people, nothing happens until the testator dies. When he dies, then those possession go to the one to whom it is promised.
All sorts of blessings are promised to us in the covenant. Our names are written as those who are to be the recipients of the covenant blessings. But for us to receive those blessings, there had to be the death of the Testator. And Christ’s shedding of His blood was necessary for there to be the forgiveness of sins, that we might have the right to receive those blessings.
That covenant, then, was confirmed by the shedding of Christ’s blood and by His death. That’s what is referred to in our Lord’s Supper Form. The Lord’s Supper Form makes a reference to the agonies into which Christ was plunged, and then it makes a statement specifically about Christ’s death. And it says about His death that he finally confirmed—Christ “finally confirmed with his death and shedding of his blood, the new and eternal testament.” By His death He confirmed that testament, “that covenant of grace and reconciliation, when he said, ‘It is finished.’”
So there in that little phrase the same truth is referred to as a testament and as a covenant. The new and eternal testament is said to be the same as the covenant of grace and reconciliation. It says that Christ confirmed that by His death and shedding of His blood. And then makes a specific reference to that cry from the cross: “It is finished.”
That statement, “It is finished,” was a loud declaration that the covenant is unconditional. To deny that the covenant is unconditional is really not to believe what Jesus said when He cried out from the cross, “It is finished.” Because when Jesus said those words, we have a reference to the confirming of the testament. And if the testament is confirmed, if the testament is of force, then that means nothing else has to be done. The only thing—theonly thing—that was necessary for the covenant to be in force was one thing: the death of the Testator. That Christ by His suffering and by His death has made it so that the covenant is in force, and all those whose names were included as being recipients of the covenant blessings would certainly receive all that was promised to them.
That’s what that phrase means. That’s what Jesus really accomplished. And that’s what Jesus was telling them, telling His disciples, shortly before He died. He had been partaking with them of the Passover. That went along with the old covenant, the shedding of the blood of the lamb, the eating of the Passover lamb. Jesus was telling them that in the new covenant different blood was going to be shed. He was telling them that His sacrifice was really going to be the fulfillment of all of those pictures in the days of the Old Testament. That unlike the Old Testament ceremonies that involved a shedding of blood, Christ would institute a new sign, a new seal, a sacrament, that would not involve the shedding of blood, but the drinking of a cup of wine. And that Jesus pointed to the fact that His blood, His own blood, was what was going to need to be shed for this new testament to be of force. And that His death was going to be the fulfillment of those old sacrifices.
And to partake of that cup, that cup of wine, and to do so by faith was really to drink Christ’s blood. That He was telling them, “Drink My blood.” So when He was telling them that His blood was going to be shed for the forgiveness of sins, then He was also telling them that they had to drink—they had to drink—His blood.
Now what did that mean? What are we consciously supposed to be doing when we partake of the bread and of the cup?
The Lord’s Supper is explained well in the Heidelberg Catechism. It says about that, that to drink Christ’s blood means that we embrace Christ’s suffering and death. That we embrace it. Not that we accept the payment, as so many people refer to it, that Christ made a payment and then we have to accept the payment. That’s not the language. That payment’s already been made. What we are to do is embrace it. And the idea of embracing is that we are to believe, consciously, to think about what Christ did by His suffering and death. We are consciously to believe the truth of the unconditional covenant. That’s how central that truth is. To partake of the Lord’s Supper in a church of Jesus Christ, one must embrace what Christ accomplished by His death. They must believe that statement, “It is finished.” That the covenant, the only thing that was necessary for it to be in force has taken place. We have to believe that consciously. Cling to that. Embrace what Christ accomplished.
That thus we do it spiritually. That it isn’t a physical drinking in the body. Physically in the body we drink the wine. But spiritually, when we are believing what that cup of wine points to, spiritually we are partaking of the blood of the new testament.
And Christ says to us, “Drink ye all of it.” I know that the way it’s worded like that, it seems to mean, “Make sure that you don’t leave one drop in the cup.” But that’s not the meaning. The meaning is, “All of you—all of you—need to drink from this cup.” That’s the meaning. Drink ye all, all from it, is really the idea. All of you drink from it. This cup is the new testament. All of you drink of these blessings of the New Testament. By saying, “This cup is the new testament, drink from it, all of you,” then He’s telling us that we are to think about the testament when we drink of that cup. We’re to think of what it means that Christ died.
And to think of the blessings of covenant communion. That that covenant, that testament, is a covenant of grace and reconciliation. That by the death of Christ, our sins are forgiven. That that’s the idea of the covenant. That we’ve been reconciled to God. That we believe and embrace His sufferings and death means that we believe that He has reconciled us to God so that we can have and do have covenant fellowship with God.
The truth concerning forgiveness is essential to the truth concerning the covenant. We’ve pointed out before that our Canons rightly say that the covenant consists in the truth that we are righteous before God by means of faith alone. That all of our sins are forgiven. The truth concerning the covenant, in Jeremiah 31, when God says, “This is the new covenant,” He makes a reference to the fact that He would forgive His peoples’ sins forever. The same thing He does here. After He speaks of the blood of the new testament, He says this blood is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. That’s the connection between the covenant and justification. That’s why a conditional covenant goes with conditional justification. Because the truth of the covenant is about justification. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about an atoning sacrifice that covers the sins of the people that are in that covenant.
And that’s what we’re to be believing—in our souls—when we drink of that cup. That all of us together drink the same drink.
It clearly speaks against the Roman Catholic position by which the people don’t drink the wine. They only eat the bread or the wafer. By saying, “All of you drink from it,” brings out the importance of all of us together partaking, and all of us seeing stressed the unity, and that unity that we have as members of that covenant. Because we’re in that covenant, and drink together the blood of that covenant, we receive together the blessings of that covenant.
We’re to drink of it in remembrance of Christ. There were a number of times when Jesus spoke about His coming suffering and death. We’ve talked about that. How there’s a number of times when He said that He was going to be beaten by the leaders, and they were going to spit upon Him, they were going to crucify Him, and then the third day He was going to rise again. And that they were afraid to ask Him about that, and they wondered what the rising from the dead meant.
As Jesus came closer to His death, He not only made reference to the fact that He was going to die, but He made reference, and here a very specific reference that answered the questions for the disciples and for us—why?
That, after all, was the big question they had. They heard Him say that He was going to be crucified. That he was going to die. Even Thomas said, when Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the last time, “Let’s go with Him and die with Him.” But understanding why—they had difficulty understanding why this was going to happen. Right before His death He told them that He had to die this way for their sins to be forgiven. Another time He made reference to that was right in this same time period, right at the same time really—when He was washing their feet. And when he told them that he was their Master, and yet He was serving, and the Son of Man was going to give His life as a ransom for many, that He was explaining to them, while His mind was on the fact that he was about to go into the depths of agony, that right after this He was going to be sweating that bloody sweat in the garden. And as His mind was on the fact that as He partook of that Passover, that He was the Lamb, He had to be sacrificed for their sins to be forgiven, He was telling His friends why He was going to have to go through what He didn’t want to go through. But He knew that He had to for His friends to be saved.
And He instituted the Supper not after He rose from the dead; He instituted the Supper right at this point—to tell us to remember. And when we remember, we consciously receive the blessings of that covenant. To partake of the cup, which is called the new testament, to partake of the cup, is to partake of the blessings of the covenant. To drink it by faith we receive the blessing of consciously in our souls experiencing more forgiveness, the remission of sins.
The sacrament is a means of grace. Christ took the cup and he gave thanks. It’s the cup of blessing which we bless, we say. When we drink of the wine, and when we partake of the bread, those elements during the sacrament are holy. After the sacrament is over, well, they’re just bread and wine, and we don’t need them and we get rid of them. We get rid of the bread, and so on. But during the sacrament, they are holy. Not like the Roman Catholics teach of course, as if they change their substance or anything. But the fact that God’s Word has set them apart. That when we call upon God, as Christ gives thanks, that in the sacrament which he instituted, God adds a promise. He has added the promise. And when we believe the promise that He has added to the sacrament, then we receive in our souls a blessing. And we experience more, consciously, the forgiveness of sins.
And, we are really drawn closer to Christ’s sacred body in heaven. We may wonder, what does that mean? That’s what our Lord’s Supper Form says happens, that we really, in our souls, are more closer united to the sacred body of Christ in heaven. What it means is that the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit that’s in Christ, guides and directs us that we more willingly submit to the leading of His Spirit, and that we more willingly live, then, as a body. The more we willingly love one another as a body. The more we want to commune with God’s covenant people.
It makes no sense to drink this wine and to partake of the bread, and then not to be more intimately connected with the people of God that we ate and drank with. To be more united to Christ’s body means also Christ’s body as it’s manifested on this earth. And that’s what’s made reference to also in our Form. That we eat together. We drink together. All of us drink from it—by faith. And by faith we’re drawn closer to Christ. We live more as one, with our eyes more on the truth of the covenant, and on the fact that these covenant blessings come to us and to our children.
Because our names—solely by the grace of God—our names were listed. “These are the ones that receive the blessings when I die. When I die, all the things that are mine go to these people. And here are their names.” And your name is among them. Why? Solely because it pleased God to give you to His Son. And through His death, for you to receive those covenant blessings.
May we partake by faith. May we think of the testament, the blood of the testament, the confirming of that testament. And may we be nourished in our souls and live a life of more covenant fellowship with our God, and with one another, out of thankfulness for what He has done.
Rev. James Laning (Wife: Margaret)
Ordained: September, 1997
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1997; Hull, IA - July 2010Website: www.hullprc.org
Address1004 Hayes Ave.
State or ProvinceIA