One of the newer monuments in Washington D.C. is one commemorating our soldiers 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 — all of which serve to remind us of the sacrifices which were made to preserve our freedom.
This morning we here at First Baptist Angleton will be observing anther memorial, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper. This memorial helps us to remember the sacrifice that brought about our spiritual salvation: the sacrifice of the body and blood of The Lord Jesus Christ. Before we share in the Lord’s Supper this morning, I want us to look at some important things that Jesus explains to us about the meaning of this memorial, from Matthew 26:26-29, when He first initiated 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 …”
When they began the meal together that night, Jesus and His disciples were initially just observing the traditional Jewish Passover meal. 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 before they left; they would also eat part of a roasted lamb, which reminded them of the sacrifice of a lamb for each family, and the blood of that lamb was put on the doorpost of their home, so that the death angel might “pass over” their home — thus the name “Passover” for the celebration.
But in the middle of that traditional Passover celebration, something changed. While they were eating, 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; this was something different. No longer was the meal just symbolizing the Passover from Egypt; no longer was it symbolizing a lamb, and their hurriedly-baked bread. Jesus was saying that what they were doing NOW was symbolizing a NEW covenant that God was making with mankind, which would bring about the forgiveness of their sins. The sacrifice for that covenant would not be with the blood of a lamb, like in the Passover; it would be with the sacrifice of Jesus’ body, and His blood.
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 “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 for sins that would come one day through the Messiah, who would be Jesus Christ.
God loves us, and wants us to have fellowship with Him, and to 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 our sins make us deserving of God’s just punishment. God is a loving God. But He is also a just God, who cannot just let sin go by unpunished. But God solved that 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 with Him. Our Judge loved us, and paid the price for our sins to make us right with Him.
A few years ago there was a judge in Great Britain, who had a homeless man before his court on a charge of stealing two Christmas cards. The man had clearly stolen them; there was no question that he was guilty. The Judge felt compassion for him — he was a penniless man — but in order to be a just judge under the law, he was compelled to find the man guilty. But after declaring him guilty, and assessing the required fine, the judge reached into his own pocket, took out the money that was required, and paid the man’s fine for him, so that he could go free.
This is a picture of what the God of the Universe did for us. We are all guilty before God of our sins. There is no question about it. And for God to be just, the penalty of our sin has to be paid. But God loved us, and just like that judge in Britain, He paid the penalty for us. Only, the penalty WE owed was not some insignificant fine of a few hundred or even thousands of dollars — the penalty for our sin cost the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us.
This Lord’s Supper that we share, pictures the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. Jesus tells us in this passage what it meant:
— He said the bread symbolizes His body, which bore our sins, and was nailed to the cross.
— The wine, or the juice, pictures His blood, which was shed as the price for our salvation.
We need to understand that these elements — the bread and the juice — are symbols. There is no “saving power” in them. Eating this bread, and drinking this juice, doesn’t wash any of your sins away. They don’t somehow make you right with God. The Apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 11:24-25 that when Jesus distributed the elements of the Last Supper, He said: “Do this in REMEMBRANCE of Me.” They are symbolic. We do this to remember the price that had to be paid for our sins: Jesus’ body nailed to the cross; and Jesus blood poured out as a sacrifice for us.
It is just like those bronze sculptures at the World War II memorial. Those sculptures didn’t save us: the engravings didn’t jump out of the airplane, or load the artillery, or march across Europe. No, those bronze figures just REMIND us of the real men, and the real deeds they did, which brought about our deliverance in that War. The sculptures didn’t save us; but they REMIND us of the real thing that DID happened in order to save us.
That is how it is with the Lord’s Supper. The elements of this Lord’s Supper don’t save us: there is nothing in the bread or in the juice here that forgives our sins or gives us grace with God. Rather, they are a memorial; they are a picture of what Jesus did to save us. 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; that His blood was shed as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, so that whoever would call on His name might be saved. These elements — the bread and the juice — 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 this 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 might point to this word “many” and speculate that the sacrifice of Jesus was limited, that Jesus was very carefully choosing His words to indicate that His sacrifice was not for “everyone”, but just for “many” — NOT everyone. And at first glance, the words “for many” here might appear 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 mean “many.” But it means “many,” as opposed to a “few.” In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles says that the democratic government they used in Athens, which includes “hoi polloi”, “the many” is better than the government of the other Greek states, which only involves “hoi oligoi”, or “the few”. So saying “hoi polloi” was basically just another way of saying, “the masses” of people, or “everyone.”
It is also interesting that throughout history, the words “hoi polloi” have often carried with them a bad connotation:
— The Jews looked down on “hoi polloi”, “the many”, the “common” people of the world, who were not Jews. They thought of the Gentiles as “dogs” who weren’t worthy of their attention, or of God’s love. They were “hoi polloi”: the many.
— In fact, you may have heard or used the expression “hoy polloy”? That term is exactly these same Greek words: “hoi polloi.” When people use that term today, they often use it, again, in that derogatory sense, like “Let’s keep the ‘hoi polloi’ out of here; this is an exclusive group.” “Hoi polloi” is synonymous with “the masses,” or “the rabble.” It means the “common people” of the world.
So it is significant, in light of that, that Isaiah 53, 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 “the masses” — EVERYONE — the “common people” like you & me — the “hoi polloi”!
Many scriptures teach us that Jesus died for “hoi polloi,” the masses; for everyone:
— 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.”
Jesus died for the “hoi polloi;” He died for all of us common folks. 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. God DOES the love “common man”; He loves the “hoi polloi” — so much that He sent Jesus to die for us all!
So what Jesus is saying here is, My blood is going to be poured out for the “hoi polloi”; for “the many” — for the commoners, for the dregs of society, for the outcasts, for “the many” and not just for “the privileged few.” He was saying that He came to die for us ALL!
If you would say this morning: “I am not one of the privileged few; I am just one of the ‘hoi polloi'” — I am just a common sinner — then you can rejoice this morning, because the body of Jesus was crucified 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 during this new Lord’s Supper Jesus held out to His disciples the bread and the cup, symbolizing His body and blood. It was right there before them. Jesus encouraged them: “Take, eat .. Drink from it …” but each of them had to make their own personal decision regarding what they would do about it. Would they reach out and take it? It was their own personal decision. No one could drink it for them. Each one of them had to respond for himself.
And we must do the same thing today with the salvation He offers us. We each have to decide if we are going to “eat of the bread” or “drink of the cup” by receiving what Jesus did for us on the cross. We are all the “hoi polloi;” we are all common sinners who have sinned against God. But God loved us and sent Jesus to sacrifice His body and blood on the cross for us. And now we must respond to His sacrifice. The gospel of Jesus demands a personal response:
— In Acts 3:19, in one of his first sermons after the Resurrection of Jesus, Peter concluded his message with: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” He demanded a personal response to what he had just preached.
— Romans 10:13 says “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Each individual must make their own decision to call on the name of the Lord and be saved.
— The New Testament closes in the Book of Revelation 22:17 with the call to respond: “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 of the Gospel; you have to 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 very personal, and individual, about what we choose to eat. That’s why when you go to a restaurant, there is almost always more than one thing on the menu. 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 I was pastor at the First Baptist Church in Beggs, Oklahoma, and our kids were very little, Cheryl made some sweet potatoes. I am not fond of sweet potatoes myself, but we wanted the kids to at least try them. So I got up and made what has become a famous “speech” in our family’s history. I said, “Guys, Mom & I want you to try a bite of these sweet potatoes. If you don’t like them, all you have to do is say so, and you don’t have to eat any more, but we’d like you to at least try one bite.” Our oldest son, Paul, shook his head no. I said, “Paul, you don’t have to eat them all. Just take one bite. If you don’t like it, all you have to do is just say ‘I don’t like them,’ and you don’t have to have any more.” But he still would not do it. Then our second son, David, said, “I’ll try a bite.” So he did. He took a bite, and he said he didn’t like it. So I hopped up on my “soap box” (which, you can imagine, as a preacher, I am very good at doing!) And 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! My dinnertime sermon was ruined! Paul just sat there with the biggest “I told you so” look on his face — and I don’t think he tried anything new in his life ever 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 part of 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 — the food we eat is just one small example of it. God has given us the gift of the ability to choose: we can choose our career; we can choose with whom we will be friends, and whom we will marry. We get to choose our hobbies and what we will spend our time on — and we get to 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 people who are made in His image, and He 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 upon 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 doesn’t “barge” His way into our life. He knocks. He asks. The choice to respond is up to you. You must make your own personal choice to respond 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 discernible reasons as to why that might happen — for example if there was hypocrisy or inconsistency in the home— but this also happens even in very godly homes; their children rebel — and do you know why? It all boils down to the fact that THEY HAVE A PERSONAL CHOICE. You cannot impose your choices upon them; they will decide for themselves. And God does not impose HIS choice upon them either. Each person is free to decide for him- or herself.
And that’s true for each one of us. Just as Jesus encouraged His disciples that night: “Take, eat …” and “drink from it …”, so today in the same way He encourages each one of US: “Receive the sacrifice I made for you with My body on the cross.” “Drink from the cup of forgiveness I provided for you with My blood.” But He won’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 just a few moments, I am going to lead us in the Lord’s Supper. You will have a personal choice of participating in it or not. If you have received Jesus as your Savior, and you have been scripturally baptized, and you are walking rightly with Him, then I hope that you will take it. He wants you to do that.
But the most important question today is not whether you take the Lord’s Supper — which just represent what Jesus did for you on the cross. The most important question is: what have you done with what this bread and juice represent? What have you done with what Jesus 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 this for everyone — for all the “hoi polloi” like you & me! But you don’t get that salvation until, like the disciples, you respond personally, and reach out and take it for yourself by faith.
LET’S BOW OUR HEADS TOGETHER:
— If you have never done it, why not ask Him to save you right now?
— Or maybe you have, but you have never confessed Jesus publicly in baptism.
— Or maybe you need a church home to belong to.
— Or if you have done these things, then take a few moments right now to thank Jesus for His sacrifice on the cross; and spend a few moments confessing your sins to Him, and make sure your life is right with Him before we share in this Lord’s Supper.