The Parable of the Lord’s Supper

About two years ago I facilitated a class that went through each of the parables of Jesus in an effort to refresh our minds and look for more layers of meaning. It was a pretty good class. The participants were able to help me see things I had never recognized before in the text – and they shared how they could apply the parables to their lives.

I’m pretty sure most of you know, but before we go on, it would be a good idea to make sure you know what a parable is. Simply put, a parable is type of analogy where you can get a deeper meaning about something by comparing it to something else: like we are the sheep and Jesus is our shepherd. … or we are a light that shines and we should not cover up the influence we have in the world … or Jesus is like the son of a vineyard owner whose servants have been mistreated by the vineyard workers who plan on killing the vineyard owner’s son so they can keep it for themselves. The parables of Jesus are brilliant uses of symbolism that tell a story with a hidden meaning.

Maybe it never occurred to you,  but the Lord’s Supper is also a parable!

Much like the parable class I taught, we need to train ourselves to not stop at the first layer of the onion we are peeling. On the surface, the symbolism of the parable has four very simple parts.

Layer 1

A. One body consumes a meal = Followers of Jesus are unified as one person remembering the death of Jesus.
Jesus was killed for a reason = Jesus was a sacrifice for our sins much like the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
C. U
nleavened bread is eaten = The body of Jesus was never corrupted with sin.
The fruit of the vine is drunk = The blood of Jesus was shed for us.

Layer 2

But, let’s not stop at that first layer. In the 26th chapter of Matthew, Jesus “took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Have you ever thought about those verses? Why would Jesus want us to figuratively eat His body and drink his blood? On the surface it sounds kind of creepy. But on a symbolic level, it is beautiful. The Old Testament is full of verses telling people to write the words of law onto the tablets of their hearts.  But in the New Testament, we internalize the Word Himself, not just what was said or written.

Layer 3

Finally, let’s go a little deeper. In John chapter 6 Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Because Jesus is immortal God, we will live forever because Jesus lives in us.

The next time you take communion, maybe you could say a prayer similar to this: Holy God, you had a plan for our salvation before the world was created. Thank you Father. You made us yours through the sacrifice of your only begotten son – Jesus. We are grateful even more than words can say. Please bless this bread and cup that represent the sinless body and redeeming blood of your Son. It is because of that sacrifice that He lives in us. And because He lives in us, we will live with You – Father – forever. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray – amen.

The Community in Communion

What do you think about when you take the Lord’s Supper? I don’t know about you, but my mind can focus on a myriad of things based on how I feel that day. They are all part of what we would call “Lord’s Supper” related, but I really enjoy hearing what other people think about as well. I want to soak up every bit of Jesus that I can – and His death, burial and resurrection are central.

So, before I get started on the point of this blog post, I would like to share with you some of the things I think about.

Most often, I think about Jesus and his impact on me. Specifically, I tend to think about his death and what that means for me: He died as a sacrifice for my sins and he willingly submitted to being tortured to death so I could live with him forever. I also think of what it would have been like if I had been dead and buried for three days, or I think about how I would have reacted to seeing the empty tomb on that Sunday morning, or how I wish I could have witnessed him rising to Heaven on the clouds. I wonder what it must have been like to see Jesus performing a miracle or speaking a parable or confusing people by loving the outcasts of society.

But, all of those things have something in common. These tend to be scenes we think about when we focus on Jesus as our “personal” savior.

As an American I find it difficult to see myself as anything more than a “person” or an individual. I am the product of my own self-determination. That’s just part of our culture. But as a follower of Jesus, I also need to see myself as a part of the flock – not just a single sheep. And communion is supposed to remind us of that: the Lord’s Supper is not just vertical in nature – it is also horizontal. Jesus is more than our “personal” savior. Jesus is also our “community” savior.

There are a few phrases the Bible uses when referring to who Jesus died for: his flock (John 10:11-18), the children of God (John 11:49-53), his friends(1 John 3:16), the church of God (Acts 20:28), his bride (Eph 5:25-27) and his body (Col 1:18-22). I think it is interesting to note the corporate nature of those phrases.

And so, it makes sense in 1 Cor 10:17 when the Apostle Paul says, “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” Paul even says in Ephesians 2:13-16 that Jesus died in order to unify Jews and Gentiles as “one new man in place of the two.”

So, while we partake of the Lord’s Supper, remember that it isn’t just you, or your church family, or people in your city, state or the country where you live who are partaking. We, as followers of Jesus, are taking the Lord’s Supper – as a community – with people all over the world.

Somewhere there is a small group of men and women huddled together in a tiny room who are risking their lives by taking the Lord’s Supper. Somewhere there is a gathering of people who are taking the Lord’s Supper in a hut with a dirt floor. Somewhere there is a church who meets outside in the elements while they eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. Somewhere a person just devoted their life to Christ, and the first thing they want to do is take the Lord’s Supper. And somewhere, someone realizes they don’t have much time left in this world, and the last thing they want to do before they die – is take the Lord’s Supper.

My friends, they are desperately wanting communion not only with Jesus – but with us as well. Don’t deny them that honor as we approach our Father as a family, and consume these elements while remembering Jesus together.

Holy Father, the sacrifice of Jesus has made us your children. We are brothers and sisters who love one another with a bond only siblings can have. Although we may not be in the same room as a family together, we ask you to unite us as we take the Lord’s Supper. Bring to our mind the common joy we have because of your grace. Help us to remember the body and blood of Jesus as He gave Himself for our sins. It’s in His name we pray – amen.

The Courage of Jesus on the Cross

Going on a journey that we know is going to be tough takes courage. Jesus warns us about that in Luke 9:23 when He says: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that I often struggle with denying myself and taking up my cross every single day. And, that makes me pause to consider: what would I do if I lived in a place where following Jesus was met with out-right persecution, prison or death. It would take a lot of courage.

Jesus had courage. The figurative crosses we bear each day are nothing compared to the literal cross that Jesus died on for us. But, the part of His sacrifice that touches me the most is that He knew what was going to happen – and He went anyway. He knew that he would be beaten. He knew that he would be scourged with a whip. He knew that his hands and feet would be nailed to a cross. He knew that a crown of thorns would be shoved down on His head. He knew that He was going to die! Jesus had courage. He knew where He had to go. He knew the suffering He would endure. And He went anyway. Jesus. Had. Courage.

We should keep that in mind when we approach the Communion Table – if that is what your church calls it. We should remember that it has been prepared for all who recognize Jesus as their Savior. And – quite simply – all of us have been called to live a life of courage – just like Jesus did.

Philippians 1:14-21 “… because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear … And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice … I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Maybe you can use the following prayer to help prepare your mind for the Lord’s Supper —

Holy God in Heaven, we thank you for the sacrifice of Your son on the cross. We thank you for His courage to be tortured to death for us. Please help us, Father, to bring to our minds the magnitude of suffering that Jesus endured because of our sins. We ask you to help us to remember that – not only did Jesus know He was going to die for us – He knew we would one day commemorate his death by eating this bread and drinking this cup. He knew everything that was going to happen – and He went on His journey anyway. Likewise, we know that if we live for You – Lord – we can expect persecution and rejection as well. Lord, grant to us the courage of Jesus. We ask you, Father, to bless this bread and cup which represent the body and the blood of Your Son – Jesus – our Lord and Savior. We pray these things in His name – Amen.

Jesus Introduces the Lord’s Supper Concept

In just a moment you are going to read some scripture (from John 6:48-58 and Matthew 26:26-28), and I would like your undivided attention. Not only because these are from the Bible, but because THESE words – well  – these were spoken by Jesus Himself. And when our Lord and Savior says something, our minds should be focused.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

As I go through my day-to-day life, I draw a great deal of comfort from these words – and the knowledge that Jesus died for me. And, honestly, that is huge reason for celebration. However, a few years ago my church completed a sermon series entitled “Pray for One” that really did a good job of expressing the importance in unashamedly proclaiming to people we encounter that they should celebrate the fact Jesus died for them too. And so … we take the Lord’s Supper, and celebrate that Jesus died – for us – every follower of Jesus.

I do hope and pray that you – dear reader – worship with a church that truly celebrates Jesus through the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis – and not as some methodical thing to do as part of a checklist of requirements.

Holy God, thank you for the sacrifice of your son. I ask you, Father, that whenever we come together to participate in taking the Lord’s Supper, that You will bless us as we eat and drink the elements that represent the body and blood of Jesus. In His name we pray – amen.

Calling God: Father

My father died a little over three years ago. His obituary ( speaks of a life in service to God, his family and strangers. I admire my dad. When I spoke at his funeral, my topic was how everyone seemed to call him a “good man” and how his perception of the term “man” changed throughout his life – culminating with the thought that those who love Jesus and live their lives for Him are what makes someone a “real man” to his family – or at least to me. So, just in case he has an internet connection in Heaven and he’s reading this blog post: Dad, I love you … I can hardly wait to see you again someday.

The topic of this post is the word: father. Specifically, I would like to explore how that word is used in the Bible. Contrast it a little bit with its most common use in the two testaments. And then, I’ll draw a conclusion and suggest a few applications.

Let me begin by saying that I don’t think I was a very good parent to my children. So, I feel awkward writing this post because I don’t want it to come across as if I am giving sage advice from someone “who knows” to those who “don’t know” how to raise their kids. That is NOT the point of this entry. Before moving on, I will say that my sons have been gracious enough to overlook my shortcomings. They’ve all told me individually that they think I did the best I could – to which my response is, “No. I really didn’t do the best I could – that’s why I feel I wasn’t a good parent.” Know what? Every one of them said the same thing to me, “That’s okay.” Ugh – their grace brings tears to my eyes. Thank you, my sons, thank you.

My oldest son, Chris, uses the word “Dad” when he talks to me. My middle son, Aaron, refers to me as “Pop” most of the time. David, my youngest son, uses both terms. When we talk, they don’t say things like, “Hi Bob, my father, I just called to see what you were doing today.” Of course not. The words my sons use towards me are not just descriptive phrases or adjectives. The names they use for me when they speak directly to me are more personal than that.

Since my father passed away, whenever my sons call me “dad” or “pop” I am reminded of the intimacy of our relationship. I am recognized as more than a biological parent. I am recognized as more than an authoritative figure. Their choice of words reveals a connection that, even though we live in different cities, identifies us as being tied together with family bonds and an everlasting love and devotion.

The word “father” is used a lot in the Bible – like – more than a thousand times. The overwhelming majority of those times it is used to simply describe someone’s relationship to another: “Person X was the father of Person Y” or “Person Z told his father about something.” Typically, it is not used as a term of endearment – it is just a way to identify how two entities view each other.

God is referred to as a father several times in the Old Testament.

1. Isaiah 63:16 and Deuteronomy 32:6 declare that God is the father of the Israelites. Yet, this is used in the same way a guy named Richard Baulch is “the father” of my branch of the Baulch name in the United States. Richard arrived on a ship in 1850 in New York. He is, in a way, my father. Yet, if I were able to go back in time, or if he was living today, I would not address him as “father” (or dad or pop) when speaking to him. He might be a type of father, but he isn’t MY father. In other words, most of these verses portray God as a surrogate father and protector … but not necessarily an intimate family member.

2. On rare occasions, less than 20 times, God is identified specifically as an individual’s father or an individual is identified as God’s child – 2 Samuel 7:14, 1 Chronicles 17:13, Hosea 11:1-4, Malachi 3:17. However, looking closely at most of those scriptures, it becomes apparent they are generally referring to either the King of physical Israel (David, Solomon, etc.) or the coming Messiah (the King of spiritual Israel).

3. In Exodus 4:22-23, God, speaking to the pharaoh of Egypt, calls the nation of Israel His firstborn son. This language is used in connection with the infamous threat to kill pharaoh’s firstborn son in retaliation. But, I think it is significant enough to mention here.

Things take a major shift in the New Testament. Of course, it is Jesus who is doing the shifting for us. The number of times Jesus calls God “father” is astounding (more that 150 times). Think back to how many times that was done in the Old Testament. But, let’s not stop there. Jesus actually calls God “MY Father” in several scriptures. Did you get that difference? Jesus uses language that shifts the role of God away from being merely an authoritative father-figure. Jesus not only refers to God as a symbolic father or creator, Jesus specifically calls the God of Heaven … HIS FATHER! Wow! Jesus calls the God of Heaven His personal father. That is huge my friends. That is huge.

But then, Jesus kicks it up to a level that many of us still feel uncomfortable with today. Instead of simply referring to the creator of everything in existence as a real father and leaving it at that, Jesus shows us just how close He is with His father. Jesus uses a term that a son or daughter would only use if they had an ongoing, intimate and warm relationship with their father. In Mark 14:36 Jesus calls God this word: “Abba.” It is not too different from dad or pop. It is a word that is reserved only for those who are truly children of their father. Can you imagine talking to the creator of the universe and calling him your dad? That is ground-breaking.

Well, what does that mean for us? In John 20: 17, Jesus told us what it means as he spoke to Mary Magdalene while she visited His tomb, “… go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Whoa. The creator of everything is no longer a father-figure for me and for you. God is my Father. God is your Father. We have, as Paul puts it, been grafted-in to the tree of Israel (Romans 11:16-24). Remember them? Israel was God’s firstborn son.

Let’s not stop there. The Holy Spirit (speaking through Paul) is even more direct than that. In Romans 8:12-17 we are told that followers of Jesus who live by the Spirit instead of the flesh are actually sons of God (I think we are safe in saying daughters of God as well). Verse 14 is my favorite though: “… you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Praise God my friends! We can have an intimate relationship with the Lord of creation! Yet the even better news is this: not only CAN we see God as our Father … God desires that relationship with each one of us.