Built Upon the Rock
by E.H. ‘Jack’ Sequeira
Closely related to the New Testament’s central message, “Christ and Him crucified,” is the fundamental belief in The Lord’s Supper. During my many years of ministry, I’ve noticed that — no matter which country, no matter which church — Adventist members seem reluctant to participate.
In one overseas church, out of 450 members who attended Sabbath-morning services, only about 50 took part in The Lord’s Supper. In one of my pastorates in the United States, all the Adventist churches in that area agreed to conduct The Lord’s Supper on the same Sabbath, to prevent church-hopping that day.
This problem, I believe, comes primarily from misreading Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 11:
1 Corinthians 11:27, 29
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. ...For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
Some have interpreted the phrase “eats or drinks in an unworthy manner” as saying that The Lord’s Supper is reserved only for “good” Christians who have confessed every last sin and are living up to the light they have received, in the Christian walk.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus instituted The Lord’s Supper, and even offered it to Judas (knowing he would betray Him), to encourage discouraged believers not to give up their faith in Him. He knew, and even predicted, that they would face persecution and hardships after He left them:
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
The Lord’s Supper may be described as the New Testament version of the ceremonial law that points to Christ and Him crucified as the only hope of salvation.
In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites ceremonial laws to point them forward to the coming Messiah, to keep alive their faith in Him. The Lord’s Supper has the same purpose, but pointing backward to the death of Christ until He comes back to take the believers to heaven.
Until that day, Christians will continue to live in Satan’s territory and will retain their legalistic natures. These two realities will tend to discourage them as they face trials and hardships. So Jesus instituted The Lord’s Supper to help keep faith alive until His Second Advent. The only difference between the Old Testament ceremonial laws and The Lord’s Supper is that the former pointed forward to the first coming of Christ, while the later points us backward to what Christ has already accomplished in His life and death.
The Significance of The Lord’s Supper
What does The Lord’s Supper mean in light of the everlasting gospel? Key to finding the answer is the fundamental belief’s use of the word participation, as the apostle Paul uses it:
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 [emphasis added]
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
The Lord told the believers in His day:
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”
Many who heard these words turned away from Him:
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Jesus was trying to tell them that whoever identified with His life and death was guaranteed salvation, so He replied:
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you — they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.
Clearly, Jesus was linking the believer’s participation in His flesh and blood to salvation. That is, He was linking The Lord’s Supper (symbolically eating His flesh and drinking His blood) with the truth of the gospel and justification by faith.
Saving faith is to obey the gospel from the heart:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.
This means identifying with the life and death of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and publicly confessing this obedience of faith through baptism:
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
This, as we saw last chapter, is the true meaning of baptism, and The Lord’s Supper reminds the believer of that confession.
The gospel consists of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ. By His birth, His divine zoe-life was united to the as-yet-unredeemed bios-life of humanity. This legally qualified Christ to represent and substitute for the human race; then, by His life and death, Christ rewrote human history and changed its legal status objectively (as a whole) from condemnation to justification unto life:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
On the cross, the corporate bios-life of the entire human race experienced eternal death in Christ and, in the resurrection, God raised the human race up with the eternal zoe-life of His Son. Thus, it gives all the blessed hope of the resurrection from the dead, if they will accept it:
1 Corinthians 15:23
But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
Faith, then, is the believers’ response to identifying themselves with the holy history of Christ. To help keep this faith alive in His disciples, Jesus instituted The Lord’s Supper. It reminds the believers that they are in Christ and that their only hope of reaching heaven is to remain faithful to the truth as it is in Him.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
To understand the significance of The Lord’s Supper in these terms and yet refuse to participate, is to turn one’s back on Christ, the only hope of salvation. The devil, whose primary purpose is to destroy faith, tries to cloud the true meaning of the Lord’s Supper. So he has perverted the meaning of Paul’s words:
1 Corinthians 11:29
For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
He has led believers to take this statement out of its context and use it to justify non-participation in The Lord’s Supper.
What, then, is the true interpretation of these words? What Paul actually wrote is correctly translated in the New King James Version:
1 Corinthians 11:29 [emphasis added]
For he who eats and drinks [The Lord’s Supper] in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
The early Christians celebrated The Lord’s Supper by sharing a common loaf of bread and a single cup. Many of the Corinthian Christians were slaves who may not have had a good breakfast that morning, so when the bread and grape juice reached them, they would break off a rather large piece of bread and drink a hearty draught of juice. In so doing, they failed to realize that this was not a common meal, but a sacred service. It is this misuse of The Lord’s Supper that the apostle Paul is rebuking, beginning with these words:
1 Corinthians 11:20-22
So then, when you come together, it is not The Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
Paul then explains the significance of The Lord’s Supper:
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
He then admonishes the believers in verses 27-32, to examine their motives, to consider why they are taking part in this sacred service:
1 Corinthians 11:27-32
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
Finally, he concludes:
1 Corinthians 11:33-34
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat [The Lord’s Supper], you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
Far from trying to limit participation in The Lord’s Supper to only a few, Paul makes it clear that all who are resting in Christ for their salvation should participate in The Lord’s Supper. The fundamental belief, as well as our Church Manual, therefore prohibit preventing any Christian from joining in The Lord’s Supper. In fact, the Church Manual requires that even those under censure by the church for wrongdoing must be allowed to participate in The Lord’s Supper. Yet, in many countries, this injunction is ignored.
The Significance of the Emblems
What do the bread and the juice of the grape signify in The Lord’s Supper, and why did Jesus select them from among so many other possibilities?
To answer these questions, we must first focus on the two requirements Christ fulfilled to deliver humanity from the condemnation of the law and place us under grace:
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Those two requirements are Christ’s perfect obedience and His sacrificial death. During his 33 years of perfect obedience, Christ met what is commonly known as the positive demands of the law, obey and live. Second, by His death on the cross, He met the justice of the law, disobey and die, for the law demands the death of those who disobey it:
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
On the cross, Christ fully met this requirement and became forever:
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
The Significance of the Bread
When Jesus broke the bread and declared, “This is My body which is given for you,” He was representing His body as a symbol of His perfect obedience to the law throughout his 33 years:
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
He was not referring to His crucified and broken body, but to the fact that He was now sharing this body with His disciples. By partaking of the bread, they were participating in His perfect obedience and would, therefore, receive the blessings of His perfect obedience to the law:
1 Corinthians 10:18
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?
The idea that Christ’s perfect obedience to the law was fulfilled in His body is clearly brought out by the writer of Hebrews. Quoting from the book of Psalms, he confirms:
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you [God] did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll [the Old Testament] — I have come to do your will, my God.’”
The full statement, as recorded in the Book of Psalms (very familiar to the Jews), makes clear the will of God:
Psalm 40:6-8 [emphasis added]
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire — but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come — it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”
Then we read these words:
I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know.
The Jewish nation completely missed the significance of the animal sacrifices God asked them to offer in the Old Testament. They turned these sacrifices into requirements for salvation. God was displeased with these sacrifices for, in and of themselves, they had no merit; they were but shadows of the reality to come. They were to point God’s people to the cross of Christ, the one and only sacrifice that would cleanse them of sin and justify them before the law.
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
In the same way, the emblems of The Lord’s Supper carry no merit. They make no contribution to salvation. But they do point the believers to the life and death of Christ, the Source of their salvation. The Lord’s Supper is intended to keep alive the believers’ faith in Christ, until He comes to take them to heaven at His Second Advent.
To summarize, then, the bread points to Christ’s perfect obedience in His body, a body which had become the corporate body of the entire human race. Jesus was the second, or last, Adam (the word Adam in Hebrews means “mankind”):
1 Corinthians 15:45
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” [Hebrew: “adam”] when they were created.
The Significance of the Wine
While the bread represents the perfect obedience of Christ, the grape juice points to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice met the full justice of the law, on mankind’s behalf. Thus, by His perfect life (which met the positive demands of the law) and His sacrificial death (which met the justice of the law), Christ became the Savior of all. The Lord’s Supper constantly reminds the believer of this glorious truth.
In the Old Testament, the animal sacrificed had to be spotless, pointing to the perfect obedience of Christ. The blood of the sacrifice symbolized life — life laid down in death, as God declared through Moses:
For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
Therefore, the bread and wine together symbolize the life and death of Christ — his life of perfect obedience and His death, which met the just requirements of the law. Together, His life and death save us, both now and in the day of judgment.
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus....
Those who refuse to take part deny themselves these blessed reminders. As long as Christians live on earth, they will remain sinners by nature, saved by grace alone. They need to be constantly reminded of their condition, in the manner of The Lord’s Supper.
To partake of the emblems of The Lord’s Supper is to confess participation in Christ’s life and death, keeping alive faith in Christ as Savior and in the blessed hope of His soon coming. Paul links The Lord’s Supper with the function of the Old Testament sacrificial system:
1 Corinthians 10:18
Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar [that is, its blessings]?
In the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, we have noted that the lamb had to be examined and found spotless before it could be sacrificed. The spotlessness of the lamb pointed to the perfect obedience of Christ, in the same way that the bread in The Lord’s Supper points to Christ’s perfect obedience. Likewise, the blood of the lamb on the altar pointed to the death of Christ, just as the wine points to the cross. Clearly, then, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, including the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, has been replaced in the New Testament by The Lord’s Supper — the former pointing forward to the life and death of Jesus, the latter backward to his life and death as Redeemer.
The Lord’s Supper, correctly understood, becomes not only a sacred service, but the most joyful event in the life of the church and of the individual believer. It revives one’s faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. It reminds believers that their “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Those who miss this sacred service deprive themselves of the inspiration of their one and only hope of salvation.
As the writer of Hebrews reminded the New Testament Jewish believers, if anyone willfully refuses the sacrifice of Christ, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, they have no other sacrifice to cover their sins, but a fearful expectation of the judgment:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
The Significance of Foot Washing
In preparation for The Lord’s Supper, most Adventist Christians take part in the ordinance of foot washing, a practice unique to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and normally referred to as “the ordinance of humility.” But besides humility, foot washing also symbolizes, in the wording of the fundamental belief, “renewed cleansing.” It is to this aspect of the foot washing service that we now turn our attention as recorded in the Gospel of John:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
In the days of Christ the people wore sandals over their bare feet and, on the dusty roads, their feet were the first part of the body to become soiled, sometimes even sunburned and blistered. So it was customary in those days to order a servant or a junior member of the family to wash a visitor’s feet. It made the visitor feel refreshed and was used as a sign of welcome. Yet when Simon the Pharisee invited Christ to his home, he did not extend this courtesy — a telling insult:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
But now Jesus takes this common practice of washing a guest’s feet and gives it a spiritual meaning, vitally linked to the saving grace of the gospel. When they first accept Christ as their Savior and are baptized into Him, His blood cleanses the believers from all sins:
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
But they are still living in a sinful world and are sinful by nature. And just as dust would cling to the feet of those who walked the roads of Christ’s day, the things of this world cling to Christians as they walk in a world of sin.
So it is that one’s spiritual soles need periodic washing. This is part of the blessing of The Lord’s Supper. It gets the believer back on track by focusing the mind on the fact that the world has been crucified to the Christian and the Christian to the world:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Jesus Himself prayed to the Father to keep His followers from evil, since He knew that they would be living in an evil world that was not their home:
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Christ was trying to get this across when He told Peter:
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
The words “not every one of you” referred to Judas, who Christ knew would soon betray Him. But the rest of the disciples were clean, weak and feeble as they were, because they believed in Jesus from the heart. That is why we must examine ourselves and ask ourselves why we are taking part in The Lord’s Supper. Only as we come to Him in humility, as sinners, can we return home justified, cleansed from all unrighteousness.
The ordinance of foot washing also reminds all believers that in Christ no one occupies a place of spiritual superiority. Each believer stands on the same ground in Christ. In this sense, the ordinance of foot washing also is an ordinance of humility. This act, done from the heart, will bring unity in the body of Christ. “By this,” said Jesus:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
As often as believers partake of the bread and drink the juice of the vine, they are confessing their faith in the life and death of Christ as their righteousness and only hope of salvation, now and in the judgment. Amen.