“The Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:1–5)
Listen to the Sermon:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5, ESV
This is the word of the Lord given to us in love.
This morning we are studying a passage that is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, intriguing and controversial passages in all of the Bible. This passage is intriguing and controversial, so much so, that the interpretation of this passage is a major part of what divides Protestants from Roman Catholics and from the Eastern Orthodox church. Additionally, when we come along Bible-believing and preaching Protestant churches, you’re going to find a range of interpretations about but how to interpret this passage as well.
So, as we come to this passage, we have to pay really close attention. We have to see what Paul is saying and what he isn’t saying. Now this passage is intriguing and controversial for two reasons. One of these reasons is, and it’s doctrinal, here we see Paul address some things that we don’t really see quite the same things stated elsewhere about what God was doing in the Old Testament.
It’s about how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament and about what the purpose of the baptism and the Lord’s Supper is. Paul also explains the nature of apostasy, meaning when you have people who profess to believe in Christ but then eventually a fall away from that professed belief in Christ.
What does all of this mean and what should we think about all this? It’s doctrinally intriguingly controversial because there’s a lot going on here. In the application this is also intriguing and controversial. Paul is warning something here and he does not want us to miss it, specifically as it relates to apostasy.
Paul does not want us to walk away from Christ and so he is telling something that we need to give ears to hear and listen to as we pray that God would give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand what to do with this text and how to apply it to our lives.
Let’s start then with a big idea that we’re going to work with throughout our discussion of this text, especially the application. Our big idea is this, Without faith it is impossible to please God. I’m taking that big idea it directly from scripture itself, again comparing scripture with scripture. It says in Hebrews 11:6, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
We are going to see three parts to the text that we are looking at today.
1. Christ’s protection in baptism
2. Christ’s provision of spiritual food and spiritual drink
3. Christ’s plea for saving faith.
Christ’s Protection in Baptism
Let’s start in the first couple of verses, Christ’s protection in baptism. I want you to look at whichever version of the Bible you have and look at the very first verse of chapter ten. The very first word there is “for”. That word is in some English translations, but it’s not always brought out in the English translation. It’s in the Greek of this passage, but it’s not always appreciated how important that word.
This word “for” is a conjunction. It connects what’s happening in our passage to what Paul has just written in the passage above, in chapter nine. Whenever we come to the word “for”, especially in the writings of Paul, it’s as if Paul is saying take a step back. I know I just said something that was a little bit confusing, let me take a step back and explain to you what I mean. Let me give you the reasons for saying what I just said. I’ll add some proofs of evidence that will support my claims.
So we have to look up and see what came before this word “for”. We see in 9:24 that Paul writes,
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV
Paul is not talking about athletic competitions except by way of illustration. He’s talking about faith. He’s saying some people who will begin this race by professing faith in Jesus Christ will not obtain the price. That should shock us. What do you mean Paul? What could it mean to think that some people won’t receive the prize, what are you talking about?
Look 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul says,
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV
Paul you’re this incredible apostle and you’re talking about the possibility of being disqualified? What hope do any of us have? Paul goes on to recognize this is complicated, confusing and controversial. He says, sit back and I want to tell you exactly what I mean. Let me give you the evidence for what I’m about to say.
Then Paul begins this verse in chapter ten by appealing back to the Old Testament. Paul had a story from the Old Testament in mind. You may have figured this out as you are reading along here, but Paul is talking story of The Exodus of Israel out of the nation of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
God’s people lived in Egypt for hundreds of years until God sent his servant Moses, a prophet, to go and confront Pharaoh, king of Egypt. He was sent to say to Pharaoh that the Lord God says let my people go. Pharaoh opposed Moses told him no and so God then, in response, sent plague after plague after plague against the nation of Egypt.
Both destroying and decimating the nation from top to bottom, including in the tenth and final plague which included striking down every first born in all the nation of Egypt. Once Pharaoh was crushed and broken, he finally relented and said get out of here, let me never see you again.
A time came just a little bit after this where Pharaoh came to his senses a little bit and realized he actually didn’t want to lose his slaves. He sent his armies and their chariots and their horses and their swords and their spears and javelins to go and claim the Israelites back for his possession.
Paul is referencing this scene in history. So, Paul is doing two things here, first of all he’s reminding us of the story and specifically about the protection and provision that God provided for his people in that time and that story in that historical event.
Second thing he does, which we will have to look at a little bit later, is that then he shows us many of those who experienced this protection and provision coming out of Egypt were eventually disqualified from inheriting the promised land. They started the race but did not receive the price.
What Paul is pointing to in this passage in the Old Testament for consideration to understand what was happening in the Old Testament, but also here’s the application it’s so hard, to warn us against committing the kind of apostasy. So, what then does Paul say? It’s intriguing and controversial.
Paul says, “For I do not want you to be unaware brothers”. He’s saying you can’t be ignorant about this. Our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea. Now again I sort of told the story up to the moment were Pharaoh sent out his armies to reclaim Israel, to bring them back under his slavery.
Up to that point Moses has been leading Israel out of Egypt and we read in Exodus 13:21 the means by which God did it,
21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. Exodus 13:21, ESV
So, they’ve been doing this, following the cloud of the Lord by day and the pillar of fire by night. Day and night traveling because they can’t move very fast, there’s lots of young children with them, as well with a lot of elderly people, and livestock to try to bring. They can’t move very fast but eventually they get to where they can move no further because they’ve come up to the banks of the Red Sea.
It’s just at the banks of the Red Sea when they realize they can’t cross Red Sea, it’s too big. Then they realize that the Egyptians are hot on their heels. So, what happened to that point? In Exodus 14:19-20, the cloud moves.
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Exodus 14:19-20, ESV
By causing the cloud to move God cut off the armies of Egypt, with their chariots and all their war machinery, from God’s people Israel. In that moment they were under the protection of God’s cloud. God did, as you know the story, some even more remarkable. He didn’t just move a cloud he actually parted the Red Sea so that the people of Israel were able to cross across the Red Sea. Not by trying to swim through the water, but on dry ground as God parted the Red Sea and let them walk through it.
Then when the Egyptians tried to come after them, they got caught and the walls of water that were protecting the Israelites came crashing down on the Egyptians, destroying the rest of Egypt’s armies in one stroke. In that moment anyone who’s read the story understands that God was protecting his people, he was protecting their physical, bodily, temporal needs. He was taking care of them.
God protected them. That’s totally clear from the text. Anyone who has read this story knows this.
Paul insists this is true. It’s not saying, well this was just really a nice spiritual metaphor for the Christian life. He’s saying this actually happened. But there was more than just bodily protection. God was doing something special for them.
Now look at verse two, Paul says,
2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
1 Corinthians 10:2, ESV
What Paul says is this was not just an event to crush the Egyptians and let God’s people Israel go free. This was a baptism. Now what does he mean by a baptism? We aren’t going to look at verse six this morning, but I want you to peak ahead at verse six to see what he means.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 1 Corinthians 10:6, ESV
The word there for “examples” is literally the word “types”. When you are interpreting the Bible, it’s important to understand the idea of typology which comes from that word in the verse. The idea of a type is an event in the Old Testament that happened, it’s true in and of itself. You can see exactly what it is in one level, but what that type does is foreshadowing a bigger, greater reality. So, you have a type in the past and the future fulfillment is called the antitype.
You couldn’t look at the Old Testament scene of the exodus of Israel and realize that God was going to fulfill it in a greater antitype until you come to the gospels and see Jesus heading toward the cross is called his Exodus. That was the ft; of this Exodus. There was type in the past and an antitype in the future.
What Paul is saying is that you wouldn’t have been able to realize it at the time. It just looked like a cloud moving and the parting of the Red Sea, which were extraordinary in themselves. But God was doing something that they couldn’t appreciate it until we compare it to baptism today.
This exodus was a typological baptism, not into Christ but into Moses who himself was a type of Christ to come. Moses was the type; Christ was the antitype who was the greater covenant mediator who enacted a better covenant on better promises than the one that Moses did.
So, Paul is saying this was a typological baptism. The point of this typological baptism was the God in Christ protected his people. How do we know that Christ was involved?
Go back to Exodus 13-14, we read that it was the Lord who went before them by day in the pillar of a cloud. But then in Exodus 14:19, when it talks about the cloud moving there’s a different description of this.
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, Exodus 14:19, ESV
So, in so sense this angel of God is the Lord, he is Yahweh. Yet there is a distinguishment being made.
What should we make of this? Let’s keep reading and Paul becomes even more clear about what he is saying.
Christ’s Provision of Spiritual Food and Drink
3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:3-4, ESV
After escaping the Egyptians, Israel faced an enemy that didn’t come after them with swords and chariots, but an enemy no less deadly. It was the enemy of their own hunger and thirst.
You have this great multitude of hundreds of thousands of people who emerge from Egypt and where do they go? To a desert, where there isn’t much water to drink and isn’t much food to eat. It’s interesting to read that eating and drinking are the most pressing concerns right after crossing the Red Sea.
Exodus fourteen is where they cross the Red Sea. Exodus fifteen is first a celebration of God’s great work of redemption in bringing them through the Red Sea. Then the very next story is God providing water to his people at Marah, which means bitter. There was a pool of water that was bitter, and they could not drink it, until God instructed Moses to throw a log into the bitter water. When Moses did that God miraculously turned the bitter water sweet.
In Exodus sixteen we read that God provided bread from heaven. In Exodus seventeen we are back to water, there God provides water for his people at Massah and Meribah by instructing Moses to use the staff, the same one that he used and threw before Pharaoh that turned into a snake in the courts of Pharaoh, to strike a rock and out of that rock God gave his people water.
That’s a true story that happened in history. Again, Paul isn’t saying isn’t this a lovely metaphor. This happened, it’s true history. God was providing for the bodily needs of his people. It wasn’t less than that, but it was more than that.
On top of that history Paul is saying God was doing something that even the Israelites couldn’t perceive at the time. This food, even though it was physical, and the water was physical, Paul says it was also spiritual. Just as the Israelites enjoyed a typological baptism, so they ate a typological Lord’s Supper out in the wilderness. What Paul says is this, “And the rock was Christ.”
Of course, if you read the Old Testament you see all over the place that God is my rock and my redeemer. Of course, we are calling Christ the rock because we know that Jesus Christ is the eternal son of God. What Paul is saying here is that when God gave food and water to his people, we are specifically saying that it was Christ who gave them food and water.
The same Christ who gave bread and wine to his disciples in the upper room on the night when he was betrayed is the same Christ who gave bread in the wilderness and provided them water from the rock from himself to drink.
Christ accomplished this. Not because he was incarnate, that hadn’t happened at the time, but the same person was behind this. The second person of the Trinity, the Son of God, the one who would take upon himself a human nature like ours, the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is more to look at here, but we need to pause and consider three doctrinal elements here. These are the controversial parts of this passage. What do we make of this with Paul talking about the Old Testament and the New Testament and apostasy and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper? Let’s pause and consider three important doctrinal implications of what Paul is revealing here.
1. Through history, since the fall of Adam and Eve, all the way through the Old Testament and the New Testament, all through today and the future until Jesus Christ returns, God has always and only saved his people in one way, by faith in Christ.
What Paul is saying here is that God doesn’t have two different covenants of grace toward his people. Where he is graciously dealing with Israel in one way, externally, temporally, and then dealing with the New Testament people of God in a different way, a spiritual way.
What we are seeing here is that God from the beginning has been giving Christ to his people to save them by faith in Christ. The Westminster Confession of Faith Christ chapter eight, paragraph six puts it this way. One of the proof texts for Christ eight is the passage we are looking at now, so this is the way this is being interpreted in our doctrinal standards.
Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof, were communicated unto the elect in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed and signified to be the Seed of the woman, which should bruise the serpent’s head, and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, being yesterday and to-day the same, and for ever.
Westminster Confession of Faith Christ eight, paragraph six
So, our first idea is throughout history God has one covenant of grace where he is always saving his people in one way through Christ.
2. The second doctrinal implication is that the differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament isn’t if Christ was the one saving his people. That’s what we read here that Christ was the rock giving spiritual food and spiritual drink to his people.
There is a difference and it’s not about the substance, it’s not about the covenant mediator himself. It has to do with how much the Old Testament people knew. We know much, they didn’t know as much. the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter seven, paragraph five, again citing this passage, writes it this way.
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called, the Old Testament.
Westminster Confession of Faith Christ seven, paragraph five
We however are under the New Testament, the age of the gospel, so the next paragraph says this.
Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet, in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.
Westminster Confession of Faith Christ seven, paragraph six
So, the second point we need to understand is that there is a different administration of the one covenant. The Old Testament gave shadowy pictures whereas we know him in fullness through the Word and sacraments. It’s a great gift that we have.
3. The third doctrinal implication has to do with sacraments. The sacraments of the Old Testament were the same in substance with those of the new. This is Westminster Confession of Faith chapter twenty-seven, paragraph five says,
The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.
Westminster Confession of Faith Christ twenty-seven, paragraph five
That’s what Paul is saying there. They had a baptism by which they were protected by Christ. They had a Lord’s Supper by which they were given spiritual food and drink from Christ, which is the same thing that we have, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The same in substance even though different in administration.
What do we see here? What’s fascinating in this passage is something that we see in a couple of other places in the New Testament. In the Old Testament there were two sacraments, circumcision and the Passover. Circumcision was a onetime act that set people apart as the people of God. The Passover was an ongoing sacrament that they ongoingly ate to remember God’s redemption out of Egypt.
In the new covenant, circumcision corresponds with baptism. Baptism, which again sets us apart as the people of God in the new covenant. Then we have the Lord’s Supper, which is an ongoing meal that we take to remember Christ’s great grace towards us in his broken body and shed blood.
What we see in the sacraments, as J.I. Williamson points out in his book, is that the apostle Paul talks about each of these sacraments in the language of the other testament. In the Old Testament, we know there are the people who were circumcised, the people who had the inaugural Passover meal. What does Paul say? He says they had a baptism and did the Lord’s Supper.
Then in the New Testament we read that we the people of God are circumcised, not physically but in Colossians 2:11, we have a circumcision made without hands, by the Spirit of God in and through our baptism.
What about Passover? Maybe you remember Paul talking about our Passover in chapter five. “For Christ our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” We have our Passover, it’s by faith in Christ. The sacraments we have in the Old Testament and New Testament, different in administration but in the same covenant of grace, and therefore they are both pointing to the same substance which is Jesus Christ himself.
This is some of Paul’s clearest teaching on the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. As remarkable as all of this is in all of this Biblical theology, this is actually Paul’s secondary point. We would miss the point of the passage if we stop on this Biblical theology.
What Paul wants us to know is that as wonderful as these benefits were, where God gave Christ to his people through the baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the Old Testament, most of them fell dead in the wilderness judged by God.
Christ’s Plea for Saving Faith
5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:5, ESV
That word “most” is a jarringly different word from the word “all” in verses one through four. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
But with most of them God wasn’t well pleased. As Leon Morris rights in his commentary, most of them is a masterly understatement. Of all the hosts of Israel, those hundreds of thousands who came out of Egypt, all except two perished in the wilderness. You may remember Joshua and Caleb alone entered into the Promise Land, while the rest were judged and condemned.
What Paul says that they were overthrown in the wilderness. The word there is for scattered. Their corpses were scattered in the graves as they moved along in the wilderness. Why is this? It’s because of their unbelief and their unfaithfulness. God had held forth Christ to them through these typological sacraments, and yet they didn’t believe.
In Numbers thirteen, when the time came to enter in to the Promised Land, to take for themselves the prize. They had started the journey, they were running the race, why don’t you take the prize? Ten of the spies came back and said there are some really scary people in there. I don’t think we can do it. Let’s appoint a new leader and head back to Egypt. They didn’t believe. Then they didn’t obey.
In 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 we read repeatedly Israel was ensnared by their idolatry. They didn’t believe and they didn’t obey.
This is what Paul writes about and what he means by failing to receive the prize. Failing to inherit the promises. We talked about this last week. It’s not as if we have salvation and need to hold onto it really tight to avoid fumbling it before we cross the finish line. This isn’t what we are doing, it’s not about losing what God has given to us. It’s about the fact that if you are in Christ you cannot be snatched out of God’s hand.
On the other hand, we are told that there are many who profess faith in Christ, many who benefit from the external blessings of the visible church, they were baptized, the receive the Lord’s Supper, they are a part of the church visibly. Not all of them actually look to Christ by true, living, active, saving faith, because of that they don’t have salvation. There is not salvation apart from faith.
Again, remember what we heard from Hebrews 11:6, “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Now as I said at the beginning, this is intriguing and controversial, not only in doctrine but also in application. So, the final thing we have to do as we look at all of these doctrines is to ask, how do we apply these?
1. Ask God for the faith without which it is impossible to please him. Again, Hebrews 11:6 says,
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6, ESV
Here is what this passage is teaching, just as this happened in the Old Testament, so we must beware of this happening in the New Testament. External participation in the visible church alone cannot save us apart from true, living, active, saving faith. Apart from real faith, church attendance cannot save you no matter how consistently you attend.
Apart from saving faith, baptism can’t save you; no matter if you were immersed, poured or sprinkled, or whether as an infant or as an adult. Apart from saving faith church membership cannot save you. It doesn’t even matter if you are a member of this church, as wonderful as the people here are. Bible reading and memorization cannot save you. Now I would encourage you to join the Bible reading plan and work your way through the whole Bible this year and memorize as extensively as you can this year. But no matter how much you read and memorize, apart from faith, that cannot save.
Sermons cannot save, no matter how attentively you listen or furiously you scribble down your notes. Singing cannot save, not matter how gifted of a singer you are and how emotionally you sing. Prayer cannot save, no matter how fervently you pray. Even the Lord’s Supper cannot save, no matter how frequently you partake of it, apart from true, active, living, saving faith.
These elements, as good as these are, God uses these elements just as he used the sea and the cloud to baptize his Old Testament people. Then the manna and the water from the rock to give them the Lord’s Supper. These are good but they are only the means of grace. These are what God uses to hold forth and offer Christ to us. They are not the grace themselves.
You cannot take these things and think they inoculate you against hell. The truth is that only Christ can do that, and you can only lay hold of Christ not through what you do, but by a faith that accepts, receives and rests upon Christ alone for salvation. This is passive. It’s not saying to God, look what I have done. It’s saying, God I have nothing to offer you. I’m trusting what I cannot do for myself but what Jesus Christ has done for me. I am accepting, receiving and resting on him alone for my salvation.
Have you genuinely trusted Christ? I’m not asking do you have a particularly impeccable attendance record here. I’m not asking how frequently you have received the Lord’s Supper or when you were baptized. I’m asking you if you look beyond those elements to Christ himself in faith. If not, then what you need is to ask God for this faith. It’s a gift, it comes from him and God rewards those who seek him by asking him. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open for you.
Ask God for this faith without which it is impossible to please God.
2. Seek Christ in these ordinary means of grace, especially in the sacraments. It’s true that the elements of worship cannot save us apart from true, active, living, saving faith. It would be false to say that we could neglect these elements. There is not salvation for Israel apart from what God did in the cloud and in the sea. There is no salvation for them unless they eat the manna that God provides and the water that Christ Jesus provides from himself.
We can’t neglect the Word, prayer and sacraments, even if these things alone, apart from faith, do not save us. These are the means of grace by which God promises to bless us. These are the means by which God promises to give us Christ. This means that God holds forth Christ to us in these elements in a better way, a more efficacious way than the way the God held forth Christ in the Old Testament.
Here’s what our confession of faith says about sacraments. I want you to hear this because we are about to participate in the Lord’s Supper and there are so many aspects to keep in mind.
Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him; as also, to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the church and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his word. Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 27, paragraph 1
Do you seek Christ and his benefits in the sacraments by faith? And to confirm our interest in him, do you recognize that receiving these sacraments by faith confirms and strengthens your portion in Christ? By taking these, you can have more Christ if you seek him by faith?
Do you receive that by these sacraments God is setting you apart just as surely as he set apart his Old Testament people when he protected them by the cloud and in the sea and when he gave them spiritual food and drink?
Seek Christ himself. Don’t neglect these things. Seek Christ himself in the Word, in prayer, and in the sacraments.
3. Use the sacraments rightly. Use the sacraments by faith but also recognize that the sacraments are to prompt you toward obedience. The last statement in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter twenty-seven paragraph one was, “and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his word.”
The last question to ask is do you realize that receiving these sacraments solemnly engages you to the service of God in Christ according to his word. This is true whether or not you receive these sacraments by faith. By participating in the Lord’s Supper, by having received baptism, by being here hearing the Word preaches, understand this is a great privilege. It’s better than what the Old Testament Israelites had.
It’s a great privilege, even though both pointed to Christ we have this clearer. But as great of a privilege as this is, it’s also a great responsibility.
The problem with the Israelites is that they received these benefits but did not look the Christ in faith. You can’t please God apart from faith. Like the Israelites, if you receive these things apart from faith in Christ, the warning is that you will be overthrown in God’s judgement by faithlessly, disobediently receiving his sacraments.
This is actually why we fence the table. You may wonder why when we talk before the Lord’s Supper, we insist that those who do not know and trust in and love the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as those who have not become accountable for their faith in Christ as member of good standing at gospel preaching churches, we want to say wait. We don’t want to say don’t come; we want to say wait until those things are true for you. If not, you will incur greater judgement by receiving these sacraments apart from faith.
How then should we receive the Lord’s Supper? This should drive us to obedience. The Israelites didn’t believe, but as 1 Corinthians 10:6-10 points out, they also didn’t obey. They were repeatedly snared by idolatries. What then should we do?
The Westminster Larger Confession questions 174 and 175 and again quote our passage. This will maybe give you something to think about as you approach the table.
Q174: What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper in the time of the administration of it?
A174: It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait upon God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir up themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints. Westminster Larger Catechism 174
That’s what the Israelites didn’t do. They were saved from the Egyptians, they ate, and they drank but they did not see that these were giving them grace to bolster their faith in Christ. Let us not do the same thing.
Q175: What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper?
A175: The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfil their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance: but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at, the sacrament in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time: but, if they see they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterwards with more care and diligence. Westminster Larger Catechism 175
That’s a high bar, that’s a lot to think about. You might be thinking that I won’t be able to have one of those in mind as I go to the Lord’s table. Understand that this is a hard thing for us because of our sin and our weakness. That is why we have to keep going to Christ. To pray, to ask him for the grace to put the sin to death in our hearts that is leading us away from Christ and toward idolatries and distractions. To receive and rest upon Christ alone for salvation.
Where you fail, look again to Christ. Also pray for grace and for strength. We are so weak and feeble. We can’t go through this service without being distracted from the Lord because of our weakness. Ask God for strength to worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
This isn’t a burden. The way that Paul writes about this tells us that there are serious responsibilities entailed with receiving the sacraments. But it’s not a burden, this is a great privilege. The Israelites longed to enjoy what we enjoy each week. They couldn’t. They had it in a veiled, shadowy type, whereas we have it in the antitype, the fulfillment.
The gospel administration of the New Testament, where each week we hear the Word of God fully revealed to us, pointing us to the complete revelation of God in Christ and in the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper.
Pray with me.
Lord God, we ask for grace. We are so weak and sinful, and we need Jesus. Just as much as the people of Israel did in the Old Testament, the one covenant of grace that you are still working in us, we recognize that we have a much clearer better picture of Christ. We have the fuller outpouring of the Spirit, yet Father we recognize that we still fall short. So, we pray God that as we participate in worship, hear your Word, this wouldn’t just be empty to us but by the work of your Spirit, these would be for life and joy through true, living, active saving faith. Give that grace now this morning, perhaps to some who have never yet truly believed. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.