The St. Paul’s Pulpit
Let Us Now Preach the Lord’s Death
Delivered on Maundy Thursday, March 29, 2018, By
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D.
At St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. (I Cor. 11:23-26)
This is such an important night for our church and for churches like ours, because it is on this night that our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrament of Holy Communion. On that night nearly two thousand years ago, our Lord gathered his disciples in the upper room, and he gave us the sacrament that he wanted us to observe until he returns. Though it is obvious that the Sacrament of Holy Communion was important to Jesus, the apostle Paul, and the early church, it is strange how many churches of our time minimize the importance of the sacrament. Even among those who do understand its importance, very little teaching is done on the sacrament in such a way that that people might truly understand its significance.
There are an infinite number of reasons that our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, and there are infinite number of blessings that we receive in partaking of it. But I would like to emphasize one aspect of the Supper tonight that is so important to the life of the Church.
As St. Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians, he is dealing with a very divided and troubled church. Their problems are so corrupt and terrible, and their behavior is so despicable, that their sinful conduct is revealing itself even in the manner in which they observe the Lord’s Supper. People are showing greed and selfishness at the Lord’s Table, and they are even getting drunk during the service of Communion. Paul sets out to remind them of some of the reasons they participate in Communion. St. Paul is about to tell them how the Lord Jesus instituted the sacrament on that first Maundy Thursday, and he gives to us in detail what the Lord said on that occasion. We might wonder where Paul got his information. Scholars tell us that I Corinthians was probably written before the Gospels were written, so Paul didn’t get his information from Gospel accounts. Some have speculated that perhaps Peter or some of the other apostles who were there on that occasion told Paul what the Lord said. But that is not what Paul says about the source of his information. He says, “I received of the Lord.” What Paul knew about what happened on that Thursday night, around 20 years before he wrote this letter, he had received from the Lord himself. The Lord Jesus Christ himself told the Apostle Paul what he said on that evening, and Paul has written it down for us. Again, this points out to us how important the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is. It was so important that the Lord Jesus himself told Paul what happened that night, and then told him to give that information to the churches.
After Paul describes for us the words of institution, where he writes that our Lord said, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me… This cup is the new testament in my blood,” he gives us one of the reasons why our Lord instituted this sacrament. He said, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” What does he mean when he says that we shew the Lord’s death till he come? The word “show” in this verse means “to proclaim.” This is a word that is often translated in our Bibles simply as “preach.” For example, in Acts 17:2-3, we read, “And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” Paul preached, he showed from the Scriptures that Jesus is Christ. In Philippians 1:27-28, he writes, “ To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Again, the word that is translated there as “preach” is this word “show” in I Cor. 11:26. When we think of preaching we most often think of a minister standing behind the pulpit and expounding the Scriptures, and that is one manner of preaching. But there is another manner of preaching—observing the sacraments. The sacraments preach. Baptism preaches. The Lord’s Supper preaches. I want you to be aware of that every time you come and participate in the Lord’s Supper. When you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are preaching. You are making a loud proclamation, an announcement to all the world. When we participate in the Sacrament, we are preaching, and this kind of preaching, with bread, wine, kneeling, and partaking is the most powerful means we have to make the Lord’s death come alive.
What is it that we are preaching when we participate in Holy Communion? St. Paul says that we are preaching the Lord’s death. When we come here and participate in this liturgy of Holy Communion, we are preaching, and our sermon topic is always the same—the Lord’s death. Again, this points out to us the centrality of the cross in the proclamation of the Gospel. The Lord could have instituted a sacrament to observe many other things that our Lord did. He could have instituted a sacrament that proclaimed his miracle-working ability, but Paul does not say that we proclaim Jesus’ miracles till he comes, although if you attended some churches today you would think that the only mission of the Church is to proclaim the miracle-working ability of the Lord. The Lord did not institute a sacrament designed to proclaim the great moral teaching of our Lord, but again, if you attended some churches you would think that the most important thing Jesus did was to give us moral teaching about how to conduct our lives, how to achieve social justice and equality, or how start and maintain a successful business so that you would always enjoy prosperity. No, our Lord gave us two sacrament—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is a proclamation of our Lord’s resurrection. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of his death. The primary emphasis of the Church’s message is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul says that when we observe the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we preach the Lord’s death. This proclamation is the primary mission of the church—to preach his death. St. Paul writes earlier in this letter to the Corinthians, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (I Cor. 1:22-24). In these days when the Church is experimenting, wondering how we might attract people to our churches, there is only one way to attract people to the Church, and that is the preaching of the cross. Paul admits that to many people, this message about the cross of Christ will mean absolutely nothing to them. He said that the Jews are looking for a sign. That is, the Jews always wanted to see a miracle. They were always asking, “What sign will you show us, what miracle will you perform that will prove that you are the son of God.” “Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him,” the said. To convince the Jews, you had to perform a miracle. The same is true for many people today. It seems as though they say that if you want us to come to your church, what miracles will you perform. Paul also say that for the Jews, the crucifixion of Jesus is a stumbling block. They refuse to believe in a crucified messiah. For them, the messiah is not someone who will be crucified. The Messiah will be a mighyt king, a mighty deliverer who will rule the world from Jerusalem, not a peasant who died a shameful death as a criminal on a Roman cross. That same sentiment is still true today with many people in our own time. This whole message that we are such horrible sinners that the only way we could be delivered from our sins was through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is a stumbling block. First, people think, “I’m not so bad that the son of God had to die on the cross and take my penalty. Furthermore, God is so loving and kind, he just forgives us out of his mercy and kindness. God doesn’t need the sacrifice of his own son to redeem human beings.” The modern person rejects the sacrifice of Jesus as being totally unnecessary. Yet, his sacrificial death for us is the whole purpose why Jesus Christ came into the world. He came into the world to die on that cross, because it was the only way our sins could be forgiven, the only way that we could come into a right relationship with God. People are still offended by that message. In Philippian 2:5-8, St. Paul tells us why Jesus came into the world: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus came into the world to humble himself, to become a servant, to be obedient to his Father, though that obedience meant suffering the shameful death on the cross. This is the reason he came, and this is the message we preach when we observe the sacrament, as offensive as that message may be to some.
Paul said that the Greeks on the other hand sought after wisdom. They said, “Show us by your eloquence, show us by your brilliant argumentation, that there is a God and that Jesus is the son of God. But Paul doesn’t bring the carefully constructed words that typified Greek wisdom. He came preaching about a man who died on a cross. To the Greeks, that message was foolishness. The same is true now. The world says that only a fool would believe a tale about a god who became man and died on a cross in order that we might be put in a right relationship with that god. Where is the evidence? Show us by your wisdom that such is the case. Paul admits that the preaching of the cross is a stumbling block for some people, and it is foolishness to other people. Since that message is a stumbling block to so many, and foolishness to so many others, shouldn’t we preach something else? Shouldn’t we try to attract people with miracles? Shouldn’t we try to attract people with spectacles, entertaining preaching, or modern music? No, Paul says that he has no other message except the cross. Yes, when we preach the cross to Jews they are offended, and when we preach the cross to the Gentiles, they say it’s all nonsense. But Paul says that there is another group of people in the world, a group that he describes as “the called,” God’s people–those whom he calls to salvation. For those people, the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God. You don’t need to preach anything else but the cross, because “the called” will believe that message.
The sacrament of Holy Communion is the most powerful sermon that can be preached. If people observe it properly in deep reverence and humility, and if the minister preaches the word of God powerfully from the pulpit, the service of Holy Communion is powerful to reach the world, for it is here, most clearly, that we see the Lord’s death. One Anglican divine of the 19th century said that when we partake of the bread and wine we proclaim that the Lord’s death was bloody and excruciatingly painful, we show that the purpose of this bloody and painful death was to be a sacrifice for our sins, we show that this sacrifice is sufficient for our salvation, for we see that the sacrifice of Christ alone is sufficient to cleanse from all sin so that might approach God and have table fellowship with him forever and ever.
For this reason, we observe the Lord’s Supper every Lord’s Day, and every other time that we can, because it is in this way that we preach the cross. Since this is the way that we preach the cross, then it should be obvious that we should observe the Lord’s Supper as often as possible, and especially on the Lord’s Day. That is why when you look at the early church in the book of Acts you see them breaking bread, always observing Holy Communion every time they can. Why? By doing so, we preach the Lord’s death, till he comes. In other words, no matter how long history may last, no matter what cultures and nations we enter, no matter how much societies change and think that they have become too sophisticated to believe the message of the cross, this is still the only message that the Church has for the world, and it will be the only message church will have for the world till he comes. The evangelistic strategy of the church is to observe the sacrament of Holy Communion. By this means, we reach the world for Christ. We observe the Holy Sacrament. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). Jesus said that it was his being lifted up on the cross that would attract people to himself, and the only message that the Church has that will attract people is the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified.
Doesn’t this give us a further motivation to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion every time we possibly can. What excitement you should have every Sunday morning to think that you are coming to church to preach. You are going to church to preach your sermon to the world, and your sermon is always the same—the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. As you know, the Lord’s Supper is a New Testament version of the Passover meal. In Exodus 13, when the Lord is giving people instructions about how to observe the Passover, he said, “And thou shalt shew (notice the word shew again) thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:8-9). Every time these people observed the Passover, they were proclaiming, they were preaching, telling their children the story of how they were delivered from Egyptian slavery. When you participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, you are telling the world about a greater Exodus, a greater deliverance. When you participate in the Holy Sacrament, you are telling the world, “This is how I was delivered from the tyranny, the slavery, of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, that the destroyer passes over me.” This is your opportunity, when you participate in Holy communion, to give your testimony to the world. You are saying, “It was by the sacrifice of Christ that I have been delivered from the power and guilt of sin.” It is by your participation in this sacrament, that you win lost souls to Jesus Christ. You may say, “But this method doesn’t seem to be working.” Be patient. Let us not imitate the other churches who have abandoned the death of Jesus as the means to attract people to Christ himself. If we will be faithful to use the means he has appointed, God in his own time will work in the hearts of the called, and they will come, they will hear, they will see, and they will believe. Let us come now to the Lord’s table and preach our sermon, the most powerful sermon that can be preached. Let us proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. Amen.