Israel's most prominent ordinance, the Passover, is seen in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 to be closely linked with the Lord's Supper, the precious and outstanding ordinance given by the Lord Jesus to be observed by the Church of God in our present day. Indeed, it was at the feast of the Passover, the very night of the betrayal of our blessed Lord, that He instituted this new observance, as He says, "in remembrance of Me" (Luke 23:14-20). In these two feasts there are of course marked and definite contrasts, the one being for an earthly nation, the other for souls redeemed from amongst the nations and fitted for a heavenly inheritance; but, the object of the writer is to consider rather the evident comparisons that should serve to deeply affect the hearts of the beloved people of God in delighting to obey the voice of the Lord Jesus, and honoring Him in this way that He Himself has prescribed in sovereign wisdom and love.
In Exodus 12 the Passover is referred to by six distinct designations, each of these providing instruction of deepest importance. They are as follows:
- The Lord's Passover
This expression is, wonderfully sweet to those who have once realized the dreadfulness of the guilt of their sins in the eyes of a God of pure truth and holiness; for it implies the complete passing over of all who have been sheltered by the precious blood of Christ. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (v. 13) was the word of perfect assurance from God's lips. This celebration therefore is in view of the fact that the blood of Christ perfectly satisfies God, so that every child of God is eternally secured by the value of this mighty work of redemption. It is "the Lord's Passover," that is, His own exclusive work of matchless grace. Those only therefore who had been sheltered by blood (that is, Israel) could rightly keep the Passover. And as we have seen, 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 applies the same principle to the Lord's supper, saying, "Even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast." The knowledge of Christ as the Passover who has completely and eternally taken away our sins by the sacrifice of Himself, is imperative in our remembering Him in the breaking of bread. Only those who have been eternally redeemed by His blood can rightly participate in such a feast. But how worthy to be remembered with deepest reverence is this work of matchless love and grace, of infinite wisdom and power, the workmanship of the blessed Lord of glory.
- A Memorial
It is divinely significant that in each case the memorial was established just before the event took place that was to be memorialized. It was no afterthought, but the work of divine and sovereign wisdom, decreeing that, in the case of the Passover, Israel was to be delivered that night from the bondage of Egypt, through the shelter of the blood of the lamb; and in the case of the cross, that at this time the Lord of glory would be crucified, to deliver from the guilt and bondage of sin all who trust Him as Savior and Lord. Before the Passover took place, God urged upon the people that He did not want it forgotten: it must be remembered by a public memorial. Similarly, before the death of Christ, He likewise pressed upon the sorrowing hearts of His disciples that they should remember Him as the One whose body was given for them, His blood shed for them; and that this remembrance was to take the form of an observed memorial: "This do in remembrance of Me" (Lk. 22:19). lt is not simply His death, or His dying, but Himself we are to remember; and this certainly does not exclude thoughts of His previous infinite glory and fellowship with the Father, His marvelous incarnation in lowly Human form, His spotless life of sorrow and of grace, His sufferings in the world. But it is nevertheless Himself as He who went to the cross, enduring the judgment of God there, despising the shame, making perfect atonement for sin; for we "announce the Lord's death."
While this memorial must take a distinct and orderly form, it must not be merely formal, but a vital, heart-affecting remembrance of the Lord Jesus. Every individual is expected to call to remembrance the blessed person of the Lord Jesus as He who offered Himself without spot to God. What a subject of remembrance! As the Passover was considered the very beginning of Israel's history, so is the death of Christ the true beginning of life for us. Can we ever forget it? Alas, our hearts are so dull that without such a regular remembrance, we may far too easily grow cold and forgetful. Israel herself forgot the Passover feast in her journey through the wilderness, and even in the land neglected it. And how has the Church too shown cool disregard for the sacred observance of the Lord's supper, so that it is constantly put in the background, while preaching takes its place. A memorial is certainly a matter of remembrance. Let us see that it is maintained as such. "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 show the Lord's death till He comes" (1 Cor. 11:25-26). What memories should stir and thrill our souls in connection with a memorial so precious! Every recollection of Him will serve to increase the adoration of our hearts for Himself, and draw out the praise for His name that is becoming and right. Let us greatly cherish in the breaking of bread this precious character of remembrance of Himself.
- A Feast
In the feast is supplied an abundance to more than satisfy the appetite of every guest. How true indeed this is in the remembrance of the Lord. For, while our object in this service is not to receive, but to give to Him the worship and adoration of the heart, that is, to remember Him; yet this cannot but result in the filling of our own souls. In accepting an invitation to a marriage feast, do we not do so with the object of honoring the bridegroom and the bride? Yet they could not think of sending us away empty! And certainly that which the Lord Jesus provides at a feast that honors Him is more than sufficient to fill every heart to overflowing. Is this always so with us? If not, who can we possibly blame but ourselves? Let us then not excuse ourselves, but see to it that nothing less than a full heart is ours in the joy of His own presence in he midst of His beloved saints.
But we must not ignore a warning of danger here, as given in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8: "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." The feast will be dreadfully marred by leaven, the allowance of sinful practice. Leaven was rigidly excluded from the Passover, and no course of evil conduct must be tolerated in an assembly on the part of any who have fellowship in the breaking of bread. This is true also in the case of the leaven of fundamentally false doctrine, as other scriptures insist. How can hearts be filled with Christ when wickedness is present among them? This must be honestly judged, as this chapter shows, and "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" be the portion of the gathered saints of God. While in this case the guilty man was rightly excommunicated from fellowship, yet later, when he had judged himself and was restored to the Lord, he was also restored to the fellowship of the assembly (2 Cor. 2:5-11). But this feast is one of holiness: our Lord serves no contaminated food at His feast: we are to be filled only with that which is pure and good.
- An Ordinance
The keeping of the Passover was not a matter left up to the judgment of Israel or to that of any individual: it was the firm decree of God. How solemn a matter! Ignoring of it was therefore rebellion against the ordinance of God. Indeed, it was said, "All the congregation of Israel shall keep it" (Ex. 12:47). There were of course necessary exceptions: one who was ceremonially unclean must not keep it until being purified. This too has its clear counterpart in Christianity. lt is important to remark that the language of the Lord in instituting the Lord's supper is not that of peremptory command. He said, "This do in remembrance of Me," not "do this".
The emphasis is on "this", not on "do." lt is an appeal to a responsive heart. And yet, is not this expressed desire of the Lord a virtual command to the heart of one who loves Him? Can I hear Him speak in this way, and yet feel that I can possibly disobey Him? In other words, to an obedient heart, this becomes a decree he feels he must not ignore. So that the breaking of bread is an ordinance of God, not in legal form, but in a form that encourages the observance of His saints in willing obedience.
- This Service
This spirit of willing obedience now is that which is emphasized in the expression, "this service." As an ordinance it was to be "observed," as a service it was to be "kept" (Ex. 12:24-25). When, in John 12:1-3 we are told, "they made Him a supper," there are three precious characteristics mentioned, the service of Martha, the communion of Lazarus and the worship of Mary. No doubt in this there is an ascending scale, but how beautiful to see submissive, devoted service in the feast, as well as communion and adoration. This lowly spirit of serving the Lord in thankful obedience is precious in the breaking of bread: it is thus a service to Him who is worthy of our utter submission and obedience. lt is this spirit that is the "keeping" power, the power of continuance without wearying, in the keeping of this blessed service.
- The Sacrifice
This immediately draws the eye to the Lamb of sacrifice, "Christ our Passover -- sacrificed for us;" giving, not only some of His possessions, but Himself, in wondrous, voluntary sacrifice, for sinners. How unspeakably marvelous a contemplation! Thoughts of this at such a time cannot but be multiplied in many directions, just as His sacrifice is seen in scripture in various aspects, whether as the burnt offering, meal offering, peace offering, sin offering, trespass offering, with their many connecting truths.
But along with this, the remembrance of the Lord calls for some sacrifice on our own part. Indeed, if we are to "offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name" (Heb. 13:15), then is this not specially emphasized in a corporate way at the Lord's supper? True worship calls for willing sacrifice, as is seen in the costly ointment that Mary of Bethany poured on the feet of the Lord Jesus. It implies, not the giving up of merely one or two advantages, but the giving up of self, that Christ may have every honor: it is the heart poured out in willing, devoted affection and adoration. Can we think of withholding this, if we quietly contemplate the wonder of His incomparable sacrifice?
- Breaking of Bread
Though the bread and the cup must both be partaken of at the Lord's supper, yet it is designated only as the "breaking of bread." Is this not because the breaking of bread speak of the sufferings of Christ in His body, while the cup is "the cup of blessing which we bless," speaking of the wondrous results for our own souls? For the cup speaks of His blood shed, the sign of accomplished redemption [...]. But the breaking of bread, how it reminds us of the actual sufferings of the Lord Jesus, "Who in His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24). And while we may in the Lord's supper speak in measure of the wondrous results in blessing of the precious cross of Christ, yet the emphasis is rather on the perfection of His work in suffering beyond comparison. How this will draw out the deeper chords of the heart's adoration; for if the higher notes are sounded in the glories of this blessed Person, the lower, deeper notes are voiced in the anguish of His soul unto death, even the death of the cross. Blessed, holy contemplation!
There is no symbol more striking than that of bread in signifying suffering and death. First, the seed falls into the ground and dies: when its fruit if brought forth, the grain is cut down, another picture of death. Then the threshing takes place, and following this the grinding; after which, the flour being mixed with other ingredients, all is kneaded together, typical of suffering in each case. Finally it is exposed to the burning heat of the oven, a type of the dread judgment of God which alone in the darkness our blessed Lord has borne for our sakes. Then man may be blessed in partaking of the bread. Precious it is to know our Lord Jesus as "the Bread of Life," and precious to remember Him "in the breaking of bread."
- The Communion or Fellowship
The breaking of bread is not individual, though individual exercise of soul is to bring us there, and is to be maintained there also. But "the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (or fellowship) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion (or fellowship) of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Primarily this precious feast expresses fellowship with the blood of Christ Himself, and with His body given for us, that is, an identification with Him in His death. Let the sacred sweetness of such a fellowship be cherished and valued beyond every other association. Yet, the apostle immediately applies the term "the body of Christ" to "the Church, which is His body," and insists in this way that the breaking of bread is the central expression of fellowship with this "one body." Therefore, I do not break bread as an individual, but as expressing fellowship with the entire body of Christ, the Church. It is a corporate matter, in which there is be consideration of, and concern for, all saints. There is no room for independency here, no room for an occasional reception of one who is left free to also practice fellowship with groups who maintain unscriptural principles of gathering. Indeed, the remainder of this chapter shows that the saint is to avoid all fellowship with that which, though religious, is not in true subjection to the Lord Jesus.
If one is exercised by God to desire fellowship with the saints in this precious feast, and of course with the many other privileges of fellowship, it is right and godly that he should request this. And since this is "a fellowship," then he should be satisfied before God that this is the fellowship to which God is leading him; while the assembly also is responsible to be satisfied that the individual is both saved and walking in godliness, free from evil associations. A reasonable time should be allowed, in order to have all things clear and open; for fellowship must be always on a basis of understanding and confidence in one another. This godly care will never offend a careful, considerate soul, so long as it is genuine, and reasons are kindly explained. The Passover required purification from evil associations, and this is certainly no less true of the Lord's supper, in order that it should be a fellowship of truth and love. Let it be remembered that reception is to be by≠ the assembly, not by one or two, but by the gathering as such, for all should have an understanding in this matter, and the applicant for fellowship should be willing and glad to wait until the assembly is satisfied as to his reception. This will work for full confidence in both directions, and therefore for the purer, sweeter fellowship.
- The Lord's Supper
Who can measure the blessedness of such an expression? It is the Lord's provision, He who is supreme in holy authority, yet has provided in tenderest love, the supper, the last meal of the day, with the shadows failing, on the night of His betrayal. What blessed comfort He took in the affections of His disciples, in this simple repast with them, while the sorrows of death so pressed upon His soul. It is not our supper: it is His. He is the Host, for He is the Lord, whose rights of authority are absolute, Himself entitled to the deepest respect and obedience. It is to His name we are privileged to be gathered: it is He Himself who is to be supremely honored: it is He who invites here, and by whose authority alone His beloved saints are admitted, whose wisdom is to govern the order there, and while governing, to give the purest character of blessedness to such a supper.
In the only place in which this designation is used (1 Cor. 11:20) how sad to see the grave lack of order which so called for correction. Some felt they could do practically as they pleased, and consideration for one another was forgotten. But since it is the Lord's supper, then there must be an order worthy of the Lord, an order of godly concern and care for all the assembly, and of waiting on God. The Spirit of God guides in subjection to the Lord and in adoration of His name. If in our souls there was such a sense of His being in the midst, as though we could actually see Him there, could disorder possibly exist? Let us encourage one another to cultivate the joy of the knowledge of His own blessed presence as the Host of His own supper, that we may know better His own ordering, and that His name receives supreme honor.
The supper tells us too that a new day is very soon to dawn, for in this we announce the Lord's "death till He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). Could we rest content at the thought of His coming if we had never obeyed Him in the breaking of bread? Or could we be happy in giving it up before He comes? Do we find our deepest joys in His own presence?