Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
Having considered the sacrament of baptism, we now give our attention to the second of the two sacraments instituted by Christ in the New Testament. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper follows from and is closely related to the sacrament of baptism.
Baptism signifies our incorporation into the covenant of God. In baptism God gives us a sign and seal that He has taken us through Christ’s cleansing blood into His own covenant life and fellowship. And, to quote our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 27, “since (infants), as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church, and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.” The key Scripture references here, as also in our Bap tism Form, are Genesis 17:7and Acts 2:39.
But baptism is only the beginning of the life that God gives us in Christ. That life must also come to expression and fruition within the fellowship of Christ’s body. If there is no faith, that is impossible. For if there is no faith, there is no spiritual life. But where there is faith, where there is newness of life in Christ, the person who once was baptized comes to experience the fellowship of Christ, and in firm conviction desires to express his or her gratitude to God also in fellowship with Christ’s body.
Accordingly God has given to us a second sacrament, one which serves to establish us as consciously partaking of Christ’s benefits within His covenant. That is the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is the sacrament of continued nourishment. Therefore it must be administered repeatedly, and that to conscious believers who are able to discern the meaning and significance of that spiritual sign and seal.
The Lord’s Supper signifies our active participation in the covenant. By our partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we exercise deliberate communion with Christ and with His people. We do so as conscious partakers of Christ and all His benefits. And so our celebration of the Lord’s Supper also expresses our gratitude to God for our life in His covenant of grace.
The sacrament of baptism is necessarily first. That is the sign and seal of our being taken into God’s covenant and the fellowship of His church in Christ. The Lord’s Supper follows as the sign of being fed and nourished within that covenant and as an expression of our unity with Christ’s body.
The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ Himself. The Lord’s Supper, as is baptism, is a holy ordinance of Christ to be administered and observed by His church.
The Heidelberg Catechism, in its extensive treatment of this sacrament in Lord’s Day 28 through 30, points out that Christ instituted this supper when He met with His disciples in the upper room on the night in which He would be betrayed by Judas Iscariot.
Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper on the evening when He partook of the last Passover with His disciples. We read of it in Matthew 26:17-29.
There in the upper room, after observing the Old Testament ordinance of the Passover, Jesus took from that feast two elements that were on the table before Him, the bread and the wine, and constituted them a new ordinance, a holy sacrament.
So we read in Mark 14:22-24: “And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat, this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.”
He did this, take note, after telling His disciples that the time had come that He would be betrayed. He did this setting before them vividly the truth that His blood would now be shed for the washing away of their sins. “This is my blood . . . which is shed for many.” So Christ pointed to Himself as the fulfillment of the Passover lamb.
The Passover and the Lord’s Supper
While it is evident that there is a connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Old Testament Passover, there are also some clear distinctions between the two.
The Passover was the commemoration of a significant historical event.
When Israel was held in bondage in Egypt, God sent Moses to lead them out of that land of their oppression.
Pharaoh, the wicked ruler of Egypt, would not let God’s people go. And even though God gave Pharaoh signs and sent plagues upon Egypt, Pharaoh’s heart was hard. He refused to release the children of Israel from their bondage and continued to persecute the people of God.
So Jehovah came to Moses and said, “Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether” (Ex. 11:1). He explained that He was going to walk through the land of Egypt and kill all the firstborn of man and beast. Their iniquity would bring death upon them, the expression of God’s fierce wrath.
But Israel must understand that they are no better than the Egyptians. God could not spare them either, except for one thing. They must be distinguished from the Egyptians. They must be marked out as different. And that mark of distinction would be sovereignly determined by God.
So the Lord continued to instruct Moses that on the evening of that night when God would walk through the land to execute His righteous judgment, those who are His must take a lamb, a lamb without blemish, and kill it and take of the blood and spread it upon the two side posts and the upper door post of the houses where they would also eat. They were also to eat of that lamb, with unleavened bread, not leaving any left over, eating with haste, with loins girded, shoes on their feet, and a staff in their hands.
That lamb of which they would eat, and more particularly the blood of that lamb sprinkled upon the door posts, would be the sign, the mark of distinction, that separated them from the ungodly and prevented them from being themselves the objects of God’s fierce execution of judgment.
The distinction between Israel and Egypt lay only in the blood.
That was God’s sovereign distinction. “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (Ex. 12:13).
By the blood Jehovah God delivers His people.
So He also calls them to observe this wonderful deliverance by a feast of commemoration. “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever” (Ex. 12:14). And when the young children would ask, “What does this mean?” then the father would recount the history of Israel’s deliverance from the bondage of Egypt by the wonder work of God’s sovereign, particular grace. The Passover was a feast of commemoration.
But the Passover feast was also a type. It not only looked back, but it looked ahead.
The blood that was spread upon the door posts was a sign of the blood of God’s Lamb, Jesus Christ.
As we are taught in the opening verses of Exodus 20, Egypt was the house of bondage, a type of the bondage of sin. The deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt was a picture of our own deliverance out of the bondage of sin and death and our entrance into God’s heavenly tabernacle. That deliverance is ours only through the blood of the Lamb of God.
Every time the faithful children of Israel celebrated the Passover, therefore, they looked back to that wondrous night of their deliverance. But they also looked ahead to the day when their typical deliverance would enter upon its spiritual fulfillment. Also this ordinance of God belonged to the schoolmaster that pointed Israel to Christ (Gal. 3:24).
Now in the New Testament age of the fulfillment Christ has given us the Lord’s Supper, by which we partake of the salvation that is ours in Him.
In the Lord’s Supper we are called to the table of the covenant, where Christ Himself is the fulfillment of the relationship that God has established with His church out of His own sovereign good pleasure. We have no lamb any longer at the feast table of the Lord. Christ observed with His disciples the last Passover.
With His eyes fixed on Calvary and the work that He came to perform, He instituted this sacrament as a sign and seal of the fulfillment that is in Him.
Now Christ has shed His blood.
We don’t have a mere symbol any longer, a lamb.
We have the Lamb.
We have His body, His blood, as signified in the elements of the bread and wine.
We have this blessed sacrament as a church. Here also there is a marked difference between the Old Testament Passover and the present institution of the Lord’s Supper.
In the Old Testament the Passover was celebrated in the homes. They were family affairs.
But Christ has instituted the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for the church, to be administered by the church and celebrated in the midst of the congregation. The apostles were commanded by Christ, “This do in remembrance of me.” They were given that command as representatives of the church. These same apostles Jesus sent forth with the divine commission to make disciples, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
So the apostle addresses the church at Corinth in I Corinthians 11:26, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”