One of the newer monuments in Washington D.C. is the one commemorating our men who fought and won the Second World War. Among other elements, the memorial contains panels with bronze engravings of scenes from the war: soldiers loading artillery pieces, paratroopers jumping out of an airplane, troops landing at D-Day, etc., all of which serve to remind us of the sacrifices which were made to preserve our freedom.
Tonight we are observing a similar memorial, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper. This “supper” is indeed a memorial, which helps us remember that the cost of our salvation was the body and blood of The Lord Jesus Christ. Before we share in the observation of the Lord’s Supper this evening, let’s look at some important things that Jesus explains about its meaning, in Matthew 26:26-29, when He inaugurated this memorial with His disciples:
I. The Picture of His Sacrifice
:26 “Take, eat, this is My body.”
:28 “this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out …”
Jesus and His disciples were initially observing the traditional Jewish Passover meal when He spoke these words. The Passover is itself very symbolic: they eat leavened bread, which symbolizes how the Israelites did not have time during the Exodus to let their bread rise; they would eat part of a roasted lamb, which reminded them of the sacrifice of a lamb for each family, whose blood was put on the doorpost of the home, so that the death angel might “pass over” their home – thus the name “Passover” for the celebration.
But in the middle of that celebration, something changed. Jesus took some of the bread, and broke it, and said, “Take, eat, this is My body.” Then He took a cup of wine, and told His disciples, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This was something new; something different. No longer was the meal symbolizing the Passover from Egypt; no longer was it symbolizing a lamb, and their hurriedly-baked bread. Jesus was saying that this symbolizes the NEW covenant that God was making with mankind, which will bring about the forgiveness of their sins. The sacrifice of that covenant would not be with the blood of a lamb, like it was in the Passover; it was going to be in Jesus’ blood, with the sacrifice of His body.
Why did this have to happen? In the Old Testament, they had made sacrifices of lambs and other offerings to atone for their sins. But Hebrews 10:4 says “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Those sacrifices never really forgave sins — rather they were a picture, a symbol, of the Once-and-For-All Sacrifice of sins that was coming, in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
God loves us, and wants us to have fellowship with Him, and be with Him in heaven forever — this is what He designed us for. But as the Book of Isaiah tells us (59:2) our sins caused a separation between us and God, and they make us deserving of God’s just punishment. So God loves us, because He is a loving God. But just as He is a loving God, He is also a just God, who cannot just let sin go by unpunished. So God solved the dilemma by becoming a man, in Jesus Christ, and dying on the cross as the sacrifice which paid for our sins, so that we could be reconciled to God. Our Judge loved us, and paid the price for our sins.
I read recently of a judge in Great Britain, who had a homeless man come before his court with a charge of stealing two Christmas cards. The man had clearly stolen them; he was guilty. The Judge was compelled by the law to find the man guilty, and he was required to fine him, so he did. He had to be a just judge. But he also felt compassion for the homeless, penniless man. So after finding the man guilty, the judge reached into his own pocket, and took out the money that was required, and paid the man’s fine for him, which he could not have paid.
This is what the God of the Universe has done for us. Only it was not an insignificant fine of some hundreds or thousands of dollars of money — He had to sacrifice His own life for us on the cross.
This Lord’s Supper pictures that sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Jesus said the bread pictures His body, which bore our sins, and was nailed to the cross. The wine, or juice, pictures His blood, which was shed as the price for our salvation. We need to understand that these things are symbols. There is no “saving power” in them. Eating this bread, and drinking this juice, doesn’t wash any of your sins away. The Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 11:24-25 that Jesus said when He distributed the elements of the Last Supper: “Do this in REMEMBRANCE of Me.” It is symbolic. We do it to remember the price that was paid for our sins: Jesus’ body nailed to the cross; Jesus blood poured out as a sacrifice for us.
It is just like those bronze sculptures at the World War II memorial. Those bronze scenes themselves didn’t save us: those engravings didn’t jump out of the airplane, or load the artillery, or march across Europe, rather they REMIND us of the real men, and the real deeds they did, which brought about the victory. Those sculptures didn’t save us; rather they remind of what happened to save us.
That is what the Lord’s Supper is too. The elements of the supper do not save us; there is nothing in the bread or in the juice that forgives sins or gives us grace. Rather, they are a memorial; a picture of what Jesus did. He said, “Do this in REMEMBRANCE of Me”. These things PICTURE what He did for our salvation: that His body bore our sins and was nailed to the cross, and His blood was shed as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, so that whoever would call on His name might be saved. These elements are a picture of His sacrifice.
II. The Objects of His Sacrifice
:28 “which is poured out for many …”
An important point for us to consider as we think about the Lord’s Supper is, for WHOM was the sacrifice made? If we look at the text, we see that Jesus Himself described for whom it was made. He said His blood was “poured out for many.” Now, some point to this word “many” to speculate that the sacrifice of Jesus was limited. They assert that this was one way of Jesus very carefully choosing His words to indicate that His sacrifice was not for “everyone”, but just for “many.” In fact, many Calvinists or proponents of the “Doctrines of Grace” today use language similar to this to express their beliefs. They say things like: “He died for many millions” or “He died to redeem sinners” — but they specifically avoid using inclusive language like “for ALL” or “for everyone” or “for YOU”, because “everyone” or “all” or “you” are not, to them, the elect. And at first glance, the words “for many” here in Matthew 26:28 appears to support that.
Only it doesn’t! We have to look more carefully at what this word really means.
The Greek Bible word for “many” here is “polloi” — which does literally mean “many.” In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles says that the Athenian democracy, which involves “hoi polloi”, “the many” is better than a government of “hoi oligoi”, or “the few”. So he was saying this government of “hoi polloi” — the many — involves everyone! It was one way of saying “everyone.”
(It is also interesting that throughout history, “hoi polloi” has often carried with it a bad connotation. The Jews looked down on “hoi polloi”, “the many”, the “common” people of the world, who were not Jews. They were the “Gentile dogs” who weren’t worthy of their (or God’s) attention and love — “hoi polloi” — the many.
You may have heard the expression “hoi polloi”? That term is exactly this Greek word. It wouldn’t hurt for you to write in the margin of your Bible by this verse, “hoi polloi.” It literally means, “the many.” Now, when we use it today, we often use it as in that derogatory sense, like “Let’s keep the ‘hoi polloi’ out of here; this is an exclusive group.” It is synonymous with “the riff-raff”, or “the rabble.” It means all the “common people” of the world.
So it is significant, in light of that, that Isaiah 53, which is the great Old Testament passage which predicts the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross for us, says in :12, “But He Himself bore the sin of many.” When that verse was translated into Greek, they used the word “polloi.” In other words, the Messiah when He came would bear the sins of “the polloi” — “the many” — the “hoi polloi” — the “common” people — in other words, Jesus didn’t just die for the “privileged few’; He died for the sins of EVERYONE, of the “common people” like you & me.
And this is what the scripture teaches:
— I John 2:2 “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
— I Timothy 2:6 says Jesus “gave Himself as a ransom for ALL.”
It reminds me of Abraham Lincoln’s famous quip, “God must love the common man; He made so many of them”! And that’s true. He DOES the love “common man”; God loves the “hoi polloi” — so much that He sent His Son to die for us all!
So what Jesus is saying here is, My blood is going to be poured out for the “hoi polloi”; “the many” — the commoners, the dregs of society, the outcasts, for “the many” and not just “the privileged few.” He was saying that He came to die for us ALL!
If you would say this evening: “I am not one of the privileged few; I am one of the ‘hoi polloi'” — then you can be comforted in knowing that the body of Jesus was crucified on the cross for you! The blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for you! He came to die for “the many”; the common sinners like you and me — the “hoi polloi”! We ALL are the objects of His sacrifice!
III. The Personal Response to His Sacrifice
:26 “Take, eat …” :27 “Drink from it …”
So Jesus held out to His disciples the bread and the cup; it was right there before them. But now they had to each decide what they were going to do with it. Jesus exhorted them: “Take, eat .. Drink from it …” but they each had to make the personal decision to reach out and take it for themselves. Each of them had to respond personally. And we must do the same thing with the salvation He offers us. We must each decide if we are going to “eat of the bread” or “drink of the cup” and take our share in what Jesus did for us. The gospel of Jesus demands a personal response:
— In his sermon in Acts 3, Peter exhorted: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” He demanded a personal response to what he had preached.
— Romans 10:13 says “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” It is up to the individual to make the decision to call.
— The New Testament closes with the call to respond in Revelation 22:17, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.”
Throughout the Bible, God shows us that it is not enough merely to “hear” the message; you make a personal response to it.
The illustration of eating that Jesus uses here in Matthew 26 is a good one. We human beings, especially in America, tend to be so personal, and individual, about what we choose to eat. That’s why when you go to a restaurant, there is invariably more than one thing on the menu. There are many choices, because we like to choose what we are going to eat: one person prefers one thing; another person something else. The choice to eat or not to eat is a very personal one.
When we lived in Beggs, Oklahoma, and our kids were very little, Cheryl made some sweet potatoes, and I am not fond of them myself, but we wanted the kids to try them. So I got up and made what has become a famous “speech” in our family. “Guys,” I said, “Mom & I want you to try a bite of these sweet potatoes. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to eat any more, but we’d like you to try at least one bite.” Our oldest son, Paul, shook his head no, even after much cajoling. Then our second son, David, took a bite. He said he didn’t like them. Hopping up on my “soap box” (which, as a preacher, I am very good at doing!) I said, “Now, Paul, do you see what David did? He tried the sweet potatoes. He didn’t like them, and he doesn’t have to eat any more — but at least he tried them. You should follow his example!” Just then, David threw up all over the table. Paul sat there with the most smug “I told you so” look on his face — and I don’t think he has ever tried anything new since!
James Dobson once said, “Don’t fight your battles with kids over food.” He said you can’t really win those. Find another hill to die on! Making choices about things like what we want to eat is what it means to be human; it is what it means to be made in the image of God. We have real, meaningful choices to make with our lives — and the food we eat is just a trite example of it. God has gifted us with the ability to choose: we choose our career; we choose with whom we will be friends, and whom we will marry. We choose our hobbies and what we will spend our time on — and we choose whom we will worship and obey.
Our Heavenly Father does not impose the most important choice of all upon us. He gives us the dignity of those made in His image, and allows us to choose. He says, “Take, eat …”. He says, “Drink from, all of you …”. He encourages us to take it — but He does not impose that choice on us. He says in Revelation 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door and knock … if anyone opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.” But He knocks. He asks. The choice is up to you. You must make your own personal response to Him, and no one else can make it for you.
I’ve had many, many parents over the years ask me: “Why does my child, who was raised in a Christian home, who was raised in church, not serve God?” Sometimes there are some discernible reasons why, but this happens even in very godly homes, and do you know why? It all boils down to the fact that they have a choice. You cannot impose your choice upon them, and God does not impose His choice upon them. Each person is free to decide for himself.
And that’s true for each one of us. Just as Jesus exhorted His disciples here: “Take, eat …” and “drink from it …”, so today in the same way He encourages each of us: “Take the sacrifice I made for you.” “Drink from the cup of forgiveness I provided for you.” But He doesn’t make you receive it. Just like the disciples that night, you must choose to make your own personal response to what Jesus did for you — and no one else can make it for you.
In a few moments, the deacons will be passing the trays of the bread and the juice down each row, and each person here will have the opportunity either to take it, or pass it up. If you have received Jesus as your Savior, and you have been scripturally baptized, and you are walking rightly with Him, I hope that you will take it. He wants you to.
But the most important question is not whether you take the Lord’s Supper — the elements that represent what He did. The most important question is what have you done with the One this bread and juice represent, and what He did for you on the cross? Have you repented of your sin, and turned to follow Him as your Lord & Savior? Have you received the sacrifice He made for you with His body and His blood? He did it for everyone — for the “hoi polloi” like you & me! But you don’t get it until, like the disciples, you respond personally, and reach out and take it for yourself by faith.
If you have never done that, why not ask Him to save you right now? And if you have, then take a few moments right now to thank Him for His sacrifice on the cross, and to confess sin, make sure your life is right with Him before we share in this memorial supper tonight.
Let’s take a few minutes to pray, and prepare our hearts, for the Lord’s Supper while … the altar will be open for a few minutes if you’d like to come and pray, and then our deacons will come forward and prepare for the Lord’s Supper.