“The Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:23–26)
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26, ESV
This is the word of the Lord, given to us in love. When I began last year preaching through 1 Corinthians, I looked forward to preaching the passage that I’m about to preach to through today. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly and although we do give sort of a little table meditation when we receive the Lord’s Supper, we don’t often have time for extended teaching and preaching about the Lord’s Supper. Because we preach consecutively through books of the Bible, the Lord’s Supper doesn’t come up explicitly all that often.
So, I was looking forward to getting into teaching, not only about what we are doing when we receive the Lord’s Supper, but why we are doing it. The last thing I expected, the last thing any anyone expected was that we would come to this passage on a week when we cannot come together much less celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Yet in God’s providence here we are.
In God’s providence, this week I was teaching twice on the Westminster Standard’s teaching on the doctrine and the practice of the Lord’s Supper. This week, in God’s providence, we’re coming to this text where I will be preaching on the Lord’s Supper and I want to say that I’m still excited about preaching about this.
There’s a sorrow in the loss that we’re going to talk about. It’s something that we cannot taste but as we study this passage it’s nevertheless important because in this passage, as we just think about the Lord’s Supper and study it we get the gospel this morning. Let us find our hope in Christ, our hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we study his word but await his sacrament.
Our big idea this morning in this passage is this, Christ delivers himself to us in the Lord’s Supper.
This morning as we look at this a relatively short passage we’ll look at three parts.
1. The tradition that was delivered to us
2. The tradition is namely that Christ was delivered up for us
3. The tradition is delivered through us
We’ll see why I’m making such a big use of this word delivered here shortly.
The Tradition That was Delivered to Us
Well let’s look at our first section which is just part of verse 23, “delivered to us”. Look what Paul says in verse 23,
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that 1 Corinthians 11:23a, ESV
This language of receiving and delivering is the language of passing down traditions. A tradition is literally something that is delivered, what is a given over. So actually the word for tradition that we see back in 1 Corinthians 11:2 is from the same root word as the word delivered. So look what Paul wrote in verse 2,
2 Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
1 Corinthians 11:2, ESV
So, Paul is saying I delivered these traditions, these delivering overs to you. Well again Paul had some things to commend and now again as we looked at last week in verses 17 through 22, he’s not commending them how they are remembering the Lord’s Supper. So, now in verse 23 this is so significant that Paul has to remind them of precisely what the tradition, what he received from the Lord Jesus, and what he delivered to them; what the tradition of the Lord’s Supper is.
Now as we think about this idea of traditions as Bible believing Protestants, we probably have a couple of issues that we need to deal with here when we think about traditions. Sometimes we think about traditions that are just sort of manmade, that men created and passed down and they become sort of law even though they’re outside the Bible. We also worry about traditions in worship; are we really worshipping if we’re just going through the motions of traditions when we worship?
We want to worship as our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ instructed us to worship. In John chapter four he said that God is looking for worshipers who worship Him in spirit and in truth. So we have to ask whatever Paul is saying about traditions here, how does it line up with worshipping as Jesus taught us in spirit and in truth?
Well as we think about the spirit aspect, are we believing these things, are these real to us or are we just going through the motions? I think the theologian Jaroslav Pelikan quotation is really helpful to think this through. He wrote, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living and I suppose I should add it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.”
Well as a tradition, what Paul is talking to us here about the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, we have a practice and words and teaching surrounding that practice that links us to the past. We share real, vibrant, living, faith with those who have gone before us, so many of them who have already died and entered into their eternal reward.
What we need to beware is not a tradition that links us to Christians who have gone by for us, what we need to be worried about is this traditionalism, where we’re just going through the motions without any serious reflection on what we are doing. That would be as Jaroslav Pelikan, writes the dead faith of the living. So we’ve got to recover the tradition while rejecting the traditionalism and that’s how we make sure that we are worshiping in spirit.
What about truth? Again we can’t just worship however we want. We can’t worship according to the minds and devices and imaginations of men, so is this tradition that Paul is giving us authoritative? Does it actually come from God? Paul says, yes this tradition comes from the Lord. In verse 23 he said, “for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.”
The tradition that Paul is talking about is the testimony of the Scriptures, the testimony of the eyewitnesses who were there at the very first Lord’s Supper, at the Last Supper of Jesus. Tradition here is the faithful witness to the eyewitnesses of the Apostles and that’s recorded for us in the testimony, the witness, of Scripture.
So again, while Paul commends them in many ways for maintaining traditions back in verse 2, here he has to restate this tradition again because they’re missing it. They’d forgotten about it, they’d began divided among themselves, and they’re not remembering the Lord’s Supper or celebrating it in a way they ought to.
So then what is this tradition that has been delivered to us? It’s been given over, delivered, to us? Well look at what Paul writes. He continues and says
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 1 Corinthians 11:23, ESV
We translate this word betrayed, and that’s a very good and faithful translation of this word. Betrayed, this is exactly what it means. For example in Matthew 26:21 when Jesus is gathering all of his disciples on the night when he was betrayed and telling them and he says, “Truly I say to you one of you will betray me.” That’s the same word there, but this word for betrayed is the word for forgiving. It’s also the same word for delivered that we see here in verse 23 and back in verse 2. It’s the word that’s closely associated with tradition. The idea is that tradition is to hand something on, but this idea of betrayal is to hand someone over like when Judas handed Jesus over to the authorities.
Actually, this is not only true in Greek, it’s also true in Latin. We get our words for traitor and tradition from the same root Latin word. Both mean either to hand over someone falsely, to betray them, or to hand it down a tradition that has been kept for us that we received and then to pass it on.
Here this word for delivering is important in other contexts. Richard Hayes, in his commentary in this passage, points out that when Paul uses this word, he doesn’t often use it to describe Judas’ betrayal, Judas’ is handing over of Jesus. Rather in Romans 8:32 and elsewhere in Romans that Paul uses this word to refer to God’s giving over of Jesus to be crucified. So in Romans 8:32, “he who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all.” That word “gave him up” that’s the word of giving over, it’s the word of delivering Jesus up.
So here in verse 23 when we translate this word betrayed, that’s true, it certainly could mean that. The tradition is that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed by Judas, that doesn’t that phrase “by Judas” doesn’t appear there but that could be what this means. Or this could be a reference to the Father’s work of sending, of delivering, Jesus over to be crucified. Or this actually could be a reference to both sides of this, both the wicked action of Judas and betrayal of Jesus and also the Father’s gracious love plan to give over his Son to be sacrificed for us.
That’s actually captured for us in Acts 2:23. Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, says this
23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 2:23, ESV
“Jesus delivered up”, there the word is not given over but given out. It’s a very close synonym, not given over but given out. Lawless men did this and God delivered Jesus, gave Jesus out, for this purpose. It wasn’t outside the sovereign control of God, but it was also very much the culpability, the guilt, of the lawless men who crucified Him.
There’s one more note that we should make about this word. Paul also uses this word to talk about the willing, loving, sacrificial giving over of Jesus of himself. It’s his personal active role in this. So, in Galatians 2:20 that Paul writes,
20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20, ESV
You also see this in Ephesians 5:2 and 5:25, not only did the Father give his Son over, not only did Judas betray his Son, but Jesus willingly gave himself over in love for us.
What Paul is saying is this is the tradition, this is what I received from the Lord, and this is what I delivered over to you. It’s not a human tradition developed in the minds and imaginations of men, this is the very gospel of God announcing the good news of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s good news for sinners, handed down from generation to generation. Linking us directly all the way back to our Lord’s original institution of this sacrament. So, when we receive and maintain this tradition in our worship, we are doing so in spirit and in truth, or worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth in this tradition.
Well why though do we need to reflect upon the fact that the gospel is a tradition? Why not just call this the gospel? Well it’s worth noting if you flip over to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 when Paul has this great passage on the gospel, in chapter 15:1-11.
15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11,ESV
Notice how he starts, he says, “Now I would remind you brothers of the gospel I preach to you.”
There is why don’t we just talk about that the gospel preached. Why do we have to get into this idea of traditions? Well look what he goes on to say, “which you received.” There’s that language of receiving a tradition, “in which you stand and by which you were being saved if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain” Now look at verse 3, “for I delivered to you”, there’s that same word again, gave over to you.
Well what Paul is saying is that this gospel is the tradition. There isn’t a division about the traditions over here and the gospel over here, the tradition is the gospel and the gospel is the tradition. The reason it’s important to think about this as a tradition is because this reminds us that the gospel, the tradition that Christ was delivered up for us, is bigger than us.
This tradition came before us, this tradition will outlast us, this tradition is independent of us it doesn’t depend in any way on us, this tradition stands outside of us. As much as this tradition is this objective big thing, it does not at all dependent upon us or what we do or what we believe. It’s true whether or not we believe it, whether or not we practice it. Even so this tradition must be ours if we would be saved by it.
Though this tradition is independent of us, standing outside of us, it can’t remain outside of us. Like a river flowing through time, we must be carried along in the stream of this tradition of the Gospel personally. We must appropriate it personally, by faith. The Lord’s Supper not only delivers to us the tradition that Christ was delivered up or delivered over, but specifically the Lord’s Supper is a very intimate personal way of communicating to us that the Lord Jesus Christ was delivered up or delivered over for us.
The Tradition is that Christ was Delivered Up for Us
That brings us to our second point, from the end of verse 23 all the way through verse 25, that Christ was delivered up for us. Look what Paul goes on let’s start kind of midway through verse 23,
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 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.”
1 Corinthians 11:23-25, ESV
Well as we think about our own practice of for serving the Lord’s Supper, notice that Paul talks about the fact that Jesus took bread, we’ll talk about the bread itself in just a moment. Then he goes on to say, “and when he had given thanks”. Well if Jesus gave thanks for the Father’s loving, gracious plan toward miserable guilty sinners like you and me, how much more should we give thanks that Jesus willing endured the agonies and curse of the cross for us?
We must give thanks to the Father who sent the Son to accomplish this work for us, to the Son who endured and accomplished this work for us, to the Spirit who sanctified this work and who ongoingly seals and confirms and ratifies this work to us. We give thanks because of what God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has done to accomplish our redemption through delivering up Jesus Christ on the cross.
When he had given thanks, the next element is that he broke it, he broke the bread. Now notice here that when Paul talks about the bread, the only emphasis here, the only description we have about the bread, is the emphasis on the breaking of the bread. Not on the recipe of the bread.
Now as there have been a lot of questions throughout church history about what kind of bread would have been used here. Was this leavened bread or unleavened bread? As we look at the original Lord’s Supper, at Jesus’s Last Supper, we have to recognize that Jesus would have certainly used unleavened bread in that original Lord’s Supper because that original Lord’s Supper took place during a Passover meal.
We also should recognize that not all the details of the very first administration of the Lord’s Supper where Jesus institutes it, not all of those details are ongoingly practiced today. So for example, here when we are reminded that the Lord Jesus gave and instituted this Lord’s Supper on the night when he was betrayed, that doesn’t require that the Lord’s Supper must be administered at night. It doesn’t mean that we have to somehow betray someone as a part of doing this, even though this was the night when Jesus was betrayed. We don’t reenact those elements.
We don’t do this only with men; the original Lord’s Supper only had men in attendance and in fact in the whole Scripture we never see any example of a woman receiving the Lord’s Supper. Yet we know by the nature of this sacrament this is given for all God’s people, men and women alike, so we have women included. We don’t do this reclining or lying on the floor around a table in sort of a Jewish style of eating a feast.
We don’t repeat any of those elements. What we have here in 1st Corinthians 11 is a distillation, a summary, of the elements that not only were part of the background, just a couple of those, but primarily the elements that we need to ongoingly repeat.
So then we have to ask the question again, what kind of bread is this? Is this leavened bread, is this unleavened bread? Well though the Greek language has a word for unleavened bread, Paul used it back in 1st Corinthians 5:8, the word that Paul uses here and the word that the Gospel writers use when they’re recording the story of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, they never used the word unleavened bread. Always we see only the common word for bread.
Now why is this? Well I don’t know precisely, but I would draw this observation that in the Old Testament the details of the ceremonial law were critical. There were so many details, just an abundance of details, of exact recipes and exactly how things had to appear, and the timing of them. They were so important for giving a precise, even though it was both shadowy and veiled, revelation of the of who Jesus would be.
By those shadows of the ceremonial law God built up the faith of his people in the promised Messiah. The purpose of the picture given in those ceremonial details was always to point to a person, but in the New Testament when we read the passages about our worship there’s a much lower emphasis on those ceremonial details.
We are not given a recipe for the bread, leavened or unleavened. We should keep in mind that when we eat that what we eat is usually not leavened bread, but its bread made with yeast. Yeast and leaven are not the same thing. If you think this has to be leavened bread, understand most of what you eat would not qualify because it’s not made with leaven. We’re not told that it has to be leavened. We’re not told whether it should contain gluten or be gluten-free, whether the grain should be wheat or rye or millet or something else. We’re not told those details, they’re unimportant.
Similarly, we’re not told the details of the cup. We know from Matthew, Mark, and Luke that it should be the fruit of the vine. We need grapes but we’re not told whether this should be red or white wine. We’re not told whether the wine should be alcoholic or sweet freshly pressed wine without alcohol. We’re not told any of that information because the emphasis of the New Testament sacraments are not on the ceremonial details but on the substance beyond which the details of the sacraments point us.
In comparison to the Old Testament, all the ceremonial details of the Old Testament in the various sacrifices, sacraments, types and shadows, what we have in the New Testament the sacraments we have are fewer in number, we only have baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are administered with more simplicity and less outward glory. However in our sacraments the substance Christ Himself is held forth in more fullness, more evidence, and more spiritual power because the bread is not the point. Christ is the point.
We don’t need a recipe, we don’t need an abundance of ceremonial details to paint us a picture, because we have the person. We know the work that this person accomplished and therefore the only ceremonial detail we have is not about the recipe of the bread, but the fact that the bread is broke. Whatever bread you use, it must be broken to testify to the history we know that Christ’s body was broken. His bones were not broken, the Gospel of John in John chapter 19 it tells us the bones were not broken to fulfill also other aspects of the prophecy that the Old Testament gives us.
Yet Christ’s body was broken as a sacrifice. Not only as a sacrifice, but a sacrifice that is for you. Jesus says this is my body which is for you. It’s fact, it’s history that Jesus Christ’s body was broken; that’s true, that’s independent of you. Nevertheless, it must be appropriated by you, received by you in faith. Not only was Christ delivered up, but that he was delivered up for me, he was delivered up for you if you receive him by faith.
So, Jesus says finally do this in remembrance of me. Now this phrase here is not just sort of a reminder of Jesus, oh yeah Jesus. No this isn’t a bare calling to mind of Jesus, that’s such a minimization of what this text means, this is more than that. Charles Hodge captures what this would mean to be a remembrance of Jesus he says, “This means that we profess faith in Him as the sacrifice for our sins, that we receive him as such, that we acknowledge the obligations which rest upon us as those who have been redeemed by his blood, and that we recognize ourselves as constituent members of his church, and all believers as our brethren.” This is what we do with the bread.
Paul then goes on here to talk about the cup verse 25,
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.”
1 Corinthians 11:25, ESV
Well again as I mentioned earlier, there’s no recipe, no description of this wine. We don’t know if it’s red or white or anything like that. It’s described, in fact, the cup is described not according to its contents but according to its container. Do you notice that we don’t read about the wine itself, we read about the cup in which that the wine is contained?
So again, there’s that there’s a huge downplaying here of the exact recipe for the wine itself. The details are not important, what is important is what Jesus tells us, “In the same way he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
Now elsewhere, for example in Matthew 26:28 we have not only that Jesus says this is my body but also, he says this is my blood. But here Paul is quoting a slightly different version of this, it’s possible Jesus gave both interpretations, both sayings, this is my body let me tell you what that means, or this is my blood let me tell you what that means. That means that this is the new covenant in my blood.
What we find here in 1st Corinthians chapter 11 clarifies how we are to interpret Jesus’s statements, “this is my body” and “this is my blood”, but not as though this means literally that the body and blood of Jesus Christ are in the bread and in the wine, that they replace the bread or the wine or that they are in with and under the bread and the wine. Rather that the bread and the cup exhibits, it confers to us the blessings of the new covenant, which were acquired for us in Christ’s blood.
Well notice that Christ calls this not just a covenant, but the new covenant. In what sense is this a new covenant? Well you’ve probably heard this before in Greek there are two words for new, one means new in the sense of something that did not exist previously, something that didn’t exist at all. So, if that word were used, which it’s not, that would mean that this new covenant does not have continuity with what came before it. There was an old covenant and now that’s been abolished entirely and now there is a new covenant that is totally independent of that that older covenant.
However, the word here is new, in the sense of being renamed. That what was old, there is continuity. So, we might think about this as when Jesus says this cup is the new covenant in my blood, he’s actually quoting covenant language from Exodus chapter 4, “behold the blood of the covenant by which God has sanctified you.”
So, Jesus says this cup is the new covenant in my blood. The way we might understand the newness of this is to say, so the blood of animals promised something, the old covenant was a promise. But now we have the blood of Jesus, not in the cup, but the blood of Jesus shed on the cross which the cup commemorates, which the cup points us to, which the cup gives us a participation in, 1 Corinthians 10:16. What the blood of animals promised the blood of Jesus now provides, its new in that sense. As the accomplishment and the confirmation and the sealing of what the old covenant pointed forward to.
Well this is how we understand the Lord’s Supper, that it confirms and ratifies more than truth simply that Christ was delivered up, but it also confirms and ratifies the truth that Christ was delivered up for us. We have the message of this gospel in the word, that’s why we preach from God’s Word every week, to declare the mystery of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We also have the message of the gospel Christ crucified for us in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but as we receive the bread and the cup it seals that Christ’s body would and was broken and his blood was shed for us in the new covenant. In the Lord’s Supper the precious promises of the gospel are personally applied to us.
I mentioned last week, it’s worth mentioning again, the ideas are quoted from Robert Bruce a Scottish pastor who lived from 1554 to 1631 AD, where he says that, “In the Lord’s Supper we do not gain a better Christ than what we have in the word, but in the Lord’s Supper we gain the same Christ better.”
So for this reason we can worship with the word alone, but what we have in the word, Jesus Christ and him crucified, we gain better a stronger, a clearer way when we receive the Lord’s Supper.
So far then in this passage we have seen that the tradition of Christ has been delivered to us. That it has been handed down through the ages of the church by the preaching of God’s Word. Then we also have seen what the tradition of Christ is; Christ delivered up for us. A gospel message that we received by faith.
The Tradition is Delivered Through Us
Now here in this last and third section in verse 26, we must see our part in the ongoing growth and extension of the church through history. As we receive the tradition of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, we become the means through which God delivers the tradition of Christ in the Lord’s Supper to the next generation. Christ’s gospel, the tradition of Christ, delivered through us that’s our third point.
Paul writes in verse 26,
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:26, ESV
Now what does Paul mean by this? Well in part, when you talk about the proclamation of the Lord’s death, he’s referring to the ministers, proclamation of Christ’s death. First in preaching of the word. Remember that what the Lord’s Supper does is not to give us something different from the word, the Lord’s Supper is to confirm and ratify and authenticate what we have in the word. The sacrament however never stands on its own, it is dependent upon what the word declares. So, first that the preaching of the word.
Secondly, it proclaims the Lord’s death in the presiding minister’s proclamation of the words of institution that we read from this passage every week when we receive the Lord’s Supper, to remind us of the fact that Christ’s body was broken, and his blood shed for us. The third way we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes is by each and every person who communes, who receives the bread and the wine by faith. To eat this bread and to drink the cup is functionally a profession of faith. You are declaring that this is real for you, true for you. Now that’s why we often confess creed’s or confessions of faith right before the Lord’s table, to proclaim what we mean in the gospel of the Lord’s death until he comes.
So, when inquirers come to see what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, they should never miss the fact that as we come, we’re not getting a snack. They should never miss the fact that as we come, we’re doing something, so different from that. We are individually professing our faith and proclaiming through the merit and the value and the glory of Christ’s death until he comes.
The gospel of Jesus this is the tradition that was delivered from the Lord to his apostles, those at the Last Supper, as well as Paul. This is the tradition that Christ delivered to the Corinthians and by this passage of Scripture to all churches, all the way down to us. This is the tradition that we deliver on to the next generation as our children see us eating and drinking and ask what does this mean?
Our children are born and baptized into the church. As community members they’re included in the covenant by God’s own promises that he will be God to our children after us, but they cannot at first do what God requires communicants to do before receiving the Lord’s Supper. We’ll look at this next week in verse 28. We read about how that we must examine ourselves, that we must discern the body, verse 29, and then we must judge ourselves before we eat and drink of the Lord’s Supper.
Well children at first can’t do these things, therefore they cannot at first receive the Lord’s Supper. Now this doesn’t mean though that the Lord’s Supper has no benefit for them. When they see us taking the Lord’s Supper week after week, they recognize that while they are members of the church by birth, there is more to gain than simply their great inheritance that they have by birth.
When they ask questions they give their parents opportunities to explain the gospel and by asking, “Why am I held back from the table?”, God provokes them to think and he begins to strengthen and deepen and confirm their personal faith until they too may give credible profession of personal faith in Christ in order to come to the table. When that happens it’s such a joy that this isn’t just something that children are parroting to us, this is something that is personal to them. So, we relentlessly pray with and for our children that they will never remember a day when they did not know Jesus.
This is a tradition not only that we have received, not only that we pass on, but we’re also recognizing that in this great stream of the tradition of the gospel of Jesus Christ that God is flowing like a river through history. This is the tradition that will carry on, that they will deliver when we are gone, after we die, in generation after generation until the Lord comes. It’s not just that we’re delivering it to them, we are entrusting it to them, delivering it to them with the expectation that they will deliver it on after us.
This tradition is delivered to us, it’s a tradition about Christ delivered up for us, and it’s a tradition that is delivered on through us.
With all this in mind I have three applications.
1. Receive the tradition of Christ. By receive, I partially mean simply learn it. That is I’m talking about dedicating yourself to learn the objective information about what Jesus Christ has done in history. The tradition that has been passed down through the ages of the church in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The tradition is not something that is carefully guarded as a secret by cloistered clergy, at which they sometimes reveal in bits and pieces. We reject the Roman Catholic idea that the church possesses oral traditions that go beyond the Scriptures.
Rather what we see in this passage of Scripture is that the tradition we have is the scripture, which proclaims to us the gospel of Jesus Christ, who was delivered up by Judas according to the hands of wicked man, who was delivered up according to the sending of the Father, who was delivered up out of love of the Son, and who’s delivered up by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
Wherever the church faithfully proclaims what the Scriptures teach, there the church is faithfully passing on the tradition of Jesus Christ. This is the sense in which the church is a pillar and buttress of the truth, as we see in 1 Timothy 3:15. That we exist for passing down the gospel from generation to generation.
Right now we’re experiencing an unprecedented crisis that inhibits our ability to gather together fully and freely and safely, but even so our mission doesn’t change. Therefore, I commend you, receive, learn the tradition of Christ.
2. We have to do more than learn it and we must receive this tradition, but as we receive this tradition it’s not just intellectually understanding what it means. We must partake of this tradition, don’t just learn it, partake of it. Personally, apply it to your life. Appropriate this for yourself by faith. Christ was not merely delivered up, he was delivered up for you if you’ll receive him by faith.
Do you know this? If so, do you possess this as your only comfort in life and in death? Is the tradition of Jesus Christ the treasure that you would sell everything in this world to gain? “O taste and see that the Lord is good”, Psalm 34:8.
As we continue to wait for the next time that we can taste physically of the Lord’s Supper, the goodness of God in the Lord’s Supper, prepare your hearts to receive what Christ has given to us. As we study this word prayerfully meditate on it and receive it by faith.
3. We must pass on this tradition of Christ’s. Parents do you teach your children these things? Do you ask and answer questions about the Lord’s Supper that your children see week after week? Do you pray with and for your children with a view to their embracing Christ and thus possessing personally all benefits of the covenant? Do you pass on the gospel when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise with your children, as we’re commanded in Deuteronomy 6:4-7?
I’m a parent of young children, I know there’s sometimes a fear that they’re not getting if they’re not listening now. You do family worship together and it seems like no one’s getting anything out of this; they’re distracted and wriggling and screaming and fighting. Let me encourage you continue faithfully. Children pick up more than we realize and over the course of time as we faithfully pass down this tradition, God works in them as we scatter an abundance of seeds in their lives. God uses those seeds to bring up a harvest that’s what we’re praying for. It’s not just by doing it we have to look to Lord to accomplish in us what we are scattering the seeds to do, praying that he will bring about fruit when all we can do is to scatter the seeds.
For all of us, do we share these things with unbelievers, with unbelieving people we know, with our unbelieving family members, friends, neighbors, fellow students, or coworkers? We have to remember Acts 2:39 that the promise is not only for us. We need to partake of this personally. The promises are for our children, we need to pass it on to them, hand down those traditions of them. Also, the promises are also for all those who are far off whom the Lord calls to himself. We need to pass this tradition on to others. We are passing on this tradition of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We have in this passage one of the most profound statements about one of the most important traditions that has been passed down through all the ages of the church, that has come now to us. The tradition, the practice of the Lord’s Supper. The sacrament of Christ’s own body and blood that he gave for us to be broken and shed, and we might receive it and participate in the blessings of the covenant that he purchased for us by faith.
Friends let’s look to Christ in faith this morning and ask that he would prepare our hearts all the more for every week that we have to wait, until the day when we can receive again the sacrament the Lord’s Supper.
Pray with me now.
Lord we pray that as we cannot receive this now, that you would nevertheless be working in our hearts. Use your word to strengthen our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, transform us, give us faith and hope in Christ, especially through a very difficult time in our history. We pray God that you would root and establish us in Christ for his glory and for our good. I pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.