In ancient times, a king customarily held a feast following a great victory. At the feast, he would lift up and drink deeply from a cup of wine as a symbol of deliverance and thanksgiving. In the Lord’s Supper, Christians lift up and drink deeply from the cup of thanksgiving for salvation through Jesus Christ. By faith we taste the efficacy of Christ’s blood to cleanse from all sin (1 John 1:7) and become partakers of every covenant mercy (1 Cor. 11:25).
When the Lord’s Supper is administered in psalm-singing churches, communicants often sing Psalm 116. Few songs more aptly express the character of the supper as a thanksgiving feast. Here are several stanzas from one metrical version:
I love the Lord, the fount of life
He hears my voice, my cry
Inclines His ear, gives strength
In life, in death, my heart will
seek His face.
Thou, O Jehovah,
in Thy sovereign grace,
Hath saved my soul from
death and woe appalling,
Dried all my tears,
secured my feet from falling.
Lo, I shall live and walk
before Thy face.
What shall I render to Jehovah now
For all the riches of His consolation?
With joy I’ll take the
cup of His salvation,
And call upon His name
with thankful vow.
l am, O Lord, Thy servant,
bound yet free,
Thy handmaid’s son,
whose shackles Thou hast broken;
Redeemed by grace,
I’ll render as a token
Of gratitude my constant
praise to Thee. (Psalter 426:1, 5, 7, 9)
I Love the Lord
Participation in the Lord’s Supper requires faith to please God. Christ has appointed this supper only for believers. Romans 14:23 says, “He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (kjv). Arguing from the lesser to the greater, if this is true of an ordinary meal eaten before God, how much more is it true of the sacramental feast?
In the Lord’s Supper, we come to Christ, hearing, seeing, drinking, eating, trusting, and thanking Him for what He has done. All these activities are very physical, and can be outwardly completed without an inner work of faith. But in order to participate fully in this meal of grace, we must have faith in the sovereign God, who “ ‘so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ ” (John 3:16, kjv). We must trust in Christ, nailed to the cross and lifted up to the, “ ‘as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness’ ” (John 3:14, kjv) to save His people from “death and woe appalling.” Eating and drinking, we still will starve without faith.
The Fount of Life and Grace
We must believe that Christ is “ ‘the bread of life’ ” (John 6:35, kjv). To believe on Him is to have everlasting life (John 3:36). Christ is “the fount of life and grace.” But how is this life received by the people of God? According to John 6:54–55, “ ‘Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life.… For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed’ ” (kjv).
We feed on Christ by faith. Charles Bridges described Christ as the diamond that shines in the bosom of every sermon. Likewise, to the believer, Christ is the diamond embedded and displayed in every Communion feast.
People who come to the Lord’s Supper without faith receive a bit of bread, a sip of wine, and the fearful threat of being punished for intruding where they do not belong (1 Cor. 11:29). As unbelievers, they cannot feed on Christ in their hearts.
What Shall I Render to Jehovah?
The believer who partakes of the Lord’s Supper is not merely a passive recipient. As a partaker of “all the riches of His consolation,” the communicant is moved to give thanks to the Lord. This thankful response is the very soul of the sacrament.
The New Testament, with feet firmly planted in the rubble of the Old Testament temple, destroyed according to Christ’s judgment (Matt. 24:2), says “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4, kjv). Not only is the temple gone, the sacrifices there never were intended to atone for sin. That system and the inappropriate value given to animal sacrifices is gone. No more sacrifices are needed, for “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28, kjv).
The Lord’s Supper recalls a sacrifice already consummated upon God’s altar. It remains only for communicants to give thanks to God for that sacrifice, and to live in the enjoyment of the many benefits purchased by Christ in offering up His body and blood on the cross.
With Joy I’ll Take the Cup
In the Holy Supper, the benefits of salvation are set before the believer as a cup of the finest wine, sparkling to the eye, sweet to the taste, and able to make the heart glad. The believer is invited to take this cup and drink deeply from it. Refreshed by this heavenly drink, the believer calls upon the name of the Lord with renewed faith and devotion.
The Psalms mention two cups that God sets before man. One is God’s wrath poured out against sin. Psalm 75:8 says, “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and He poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them” (kjv). So dreadful is this cup that even the Lord Jesus feared to drink of it, and so He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “ ‘O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me’ ” (Matt. 26:39b, kjv). Nonetheless, Christ accepted this fearful cup, saying, “ ‘The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?’ ” (John 18:11, kjv).
Because Christ drank the cup of wrath down to its bitter dregs, another cup is now offered to us, “the cup of salvation” (Ps. 116:13, kjv). The Lord Himself is now “the portion of … [our] cup” (Ps. 16:5, kjv). This is the cup that runs over (Ps. 23:5). Here is Paul’s inspiration for describing “the cup of the new covenant” (see 1 Cor. 11:25) as “the cup of blessing which we bless” (1 Cor. 10:16, kjv). In the Holy Supper, we take hold of Christ as “the cup of the new covenant.” We thankfully recall how the eternal Son of God left the Father’s throne to become an infant for us. We see how Jesus lived as a man among sinners for 33 years, bearing our sins, sicknesses, griefs, and sorrows. We look into the face of “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3, kjv) and are overwhelmed by what He has done for us. He carried the cruel load of our sins to Golgotha, suffered humiliation and shame in nakedness upon the cross, descended into a hell of suffering, cried the bitter cries of dereliction and thirst, and surrendered all to the cold and silent tomb.
I Am, O Lord, Thy Servant
Thanksgiving goes further than mere partaking of the sacrament. In the Supper, Christ presses His claim on us. “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:14–15, kjv). Our need could not have been greater or our plight more desperate. We were dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1).
Nothing greater could have been done for us than what Christ did. “ ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ ” (John 15:13, kjv). Christ purchased our salvation at a great personal cost. Because of His sacrifice, we belong to our faithful Savior, body and soul, in life and in death. “Whether we live therefore, or the, we are the Lord’s”
(Rom. 14:8, kjv). Our response at the Communion feast is not complete until we acknowledge the full weight of Christ’s claim, saying, “I am, O Lord, Thy servant.”
When we accept our status as the servants of Christ, we discover freedom. “Truly I am thy servant,” the psalmist says, adding, “Thou hast loosed my bonds” (Ps. 116:16, kjv). Christ’s servants are “bound yet free.” Calvin says true Christian freedom is “a free servitude and a serving freedom. Those who serve God are free. We obtain liberty in order that we may more promptly and more readily obey God.”
Bound yet free, we thank the Father for choosing us in Christ from the stillness of eternity past to save and preserve us for eternity future. Bound yet free, we thank the Son, who in love consented to be the Mediator of the covenant, and “humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8, kjv). Bound yet free, we thank the Spirit of Christ, whose power quickened us in Christ when we were in the grave of sin, whose blessing on the preaching of the Gospel led us to Christ on the cross, whose witness moved us to embrace Christ as the only Savior, and whose very presence now lives in us to make us like Christ.
What shall we render to God for all He has given us? Powerless to repay our great debt, we can only receive His free gift, call upon His name, and offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, confessing, “Redeemed by grace, I’ll render as a token of gratitude my constant praise to Thee.” More than this we cannot do; less than this we must not do.