Memorial of the cross

The Lord's Supper is a kind of looking glass for all Christian teaching, pulling the past and the future into the focus of the present.

Edwin Gallagher is a pastor presently studying for his M.A. in religion in the Graduate School of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. He has written a number of articles and is the author of the book Yours for the Asking.

The wooden cross has decayed into dust. The nails have long been lost. The crown of thorns was not pre served. No cup containing His precious blood was kept. Only one memorial has been left us of Jesus' death—the Lord's Supper. '"Do this,'" Jesus requested, '"in remembrance of me'" (1 Cor. 11:24).*

The night before He died, Jesus set up His own memorial. I'm glad He did not commission a monument that calls for pilgrimages, guards, and waiting in line. I'm glad He did not consecrate a shrine necessitating that we be well enough and rich enough to travel to the Middle East. Rather He ordained what we have come to call the Lord's Supper. Wherever two or three of God's people are gathered together, this service makes it possible for them to meditate and rejoice around the table set with the bread and with the fruit of the vine. As they eat and drink of the consecrated emblems, they fulfill the Saviour's request, "Remember Me."

The Lord knew we would need help to remember. "Remember Jesus Christ," Paul urged Timothy, "risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel" (2 Tim. 2:8). The incarnation of the Son of God is the theme of Christianity, but one could go from church to church throughout the land and hardly realize it. One church preaches prophecy, another preaches spiritual gifts, another emphasizes love, another obedience, another holiness, another social action, another various doctrines, and another religious philosophy. All these may be preached; all that is truth must be studied and applied, but not in separation from the atonement provided at the cross.

The preacher who delivers a sermon devoid of the cross has failed to preach the Word or to provide anything of spiritual benefit to his listeners. A sermon is not a sermon that does not contain the substance of the gospel. We may lecture or discourse or recite or propose, but we have not preached unless what we have spoken grows out of and is related to the need of mankind for salvation and God's appeal to accept His provision in the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus Christ.

After his grand but fruitless discourse at Athens, the apostle Paul decided that he would "know nothing" among the Greeks "except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). He realized that his commission was not to prove a point, but to " 'preach the gospel to the whole creation'" (Mark 16:15). He stated that Christ had sent him "to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (1 Cor. 1:17).

The Lord's Supper brings our roving eyes back to Christ on His cross. The service is a kind of looking glass for all Christian teaching. It offers the strongest appeal to gaze upon the body broken for us, the blood shed for our sin.

There is in the celebration of the Sup per a "coming to." The emblems, starkly simple as they are, confront us with our own lostness and direct us to our spiritual roots. As the crucified Lord is portrayed, the confused, the disgruntled, the guilt-laden, and the sorrowful are invited to make their way to the foot of the cross. Some, like Judas, choose to go out into the night, but those who come find total relief, for they cannot cling to their burdens and cling to the cross as well.

Paul, in connection with this service, said, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (chap. 11:26). His words show that the sacred meal provides both a backward and a forward look. The backward look is to the cross, '"in remembrance of me.'" The forward look is to the Second Coming, the return of Jesus. " 'I tell you,' " He said, " 'I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom'" (Matt. 26:29). The Lord's Supper, then, is a link between the cross and the kingdom. It is a sign of salvation provided and consummated, a pledge of immortal life guaranteed.

Both views, the one backward to the cross and the other forward to the kingdom, are necessary. Only as we see both the past and the future can we find meaning in the present. But there is a sense in which the backward view is the more important. Paul did not say, "You proclaim the Lord's coming"; he said, "You proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." There is a difference, a difference that is not trivial.

How often we have proclaimed the Lord's coming without proclaiming His death! We have held out the crown tantalizingly above the heads of the people, saying, "Here it is, eternal happiness, the reward of the faithful. Reach for it, grasp it if you can, make your peace with God, strive for the holiness that Heaven requires." Such preaching is not only absurd but also dangerous if it leaves out the cross and its meaning.

A woman came to me recently very depressed. She had just attended a series of revival meetings, the subject of which was the getting ready for Christ's return. "I want so much to be ready," she told me, "and I have confessed my sins and asked Jesus to help me, but I have no real peace, no assurance of being ready. Must I always be uncertain?"

I understood what she was going through, for I have been through it my self. I was happy to share with her some important scriptures, giving her a thumbnail sketch of what Jesus accomplished by His perfect life and sacrificial death. Her reaction of joy was one I have seen many times when the cross of Jesus is proclaimed. The return of Jesus now became a blessed hope instead of a disturbing threat. The message of the revival series became relevant. Twenty minutes of study about why Jesus died made all the difference.

The point is, the preaching of the kingdom must be accompanied by the preaching of the cross. Salvation involves two principles life and growth. Both are important, but life, of necessity, comes first! If we preach on Mat thew 5:48 and fail to include the message of John 3:16, we are demanding character development from the dead, maturity from those yet unborn! Even for long standing Christians, depression may set in if the increasing challenge of the kingdom is not matched by the increasing assurance of the cross.

Many have only a partial understanding of what it means to preach the cross of Christ. They limit the cross to its revelationary aspect, to what it reveals. They uphold Christ, and rightly so, as the supreme example of self-denial and sacrifice, but they forget that example without provision, though inspiring, tends also to be damning. Let us stress not only what the cross reveals, but what it provides, as well.

The Lord's Supper amplifies the provisionary aspect of the cross. " 'This is my body,' " Jesus declared, " 'which is broken for you' " (1 Cor. 11:24, margin). His language is reminiscent of Isaiah 53, which emphasizes the substitutionary base of the atonement: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. . . . The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. ... He bore the sin of many, and made inter cession for the transgressors" (verses 4-12).

The key word in these verses is "for. " The cross was a divine act, incomprehensible to us, substituting the Innocent for the guilty, the Righteous for the unrighteous. Christ's body torn for us, His bloodshed for us.

It is the shedding of Christ's blood, by which He satisfied the Law's demand for death, that brings to the penitent sinner forgiveness, peace, and assurance of heaven. Through the cross Jesus re moves condemnation from repentant sinners. Through the cross He gives us the breastplate of righteousness, the armor of God to overcome the evil one.

Then let us preach the cross. Let us fix our eyes upon Calvary and learn what happened there. When people under stand how Christ has already borne their guilt for sin and by faith accept this fact personally, then there will be no uncertainty. They will rejoice in Jesus, follow Him, and be "eagerly waiting for him" (Heb. 9:28).

The Supper is the sign. The Supper highlights the assurance of the cross. To partake of the bread and of the symbolic blood is to affirm that we have partaken of Christ's atonement, of His provision, and thus of full salvation. Did not Jesus call it " 'the new covenant' " in His blood (1 Cor. 11:25)? It is more than just a memorial; it is a covenant, a promise. It is the backward look that inspires the forward look and leads to the securing of the present experience.

This look is ours to make. In the Israelite camp, no one was healed who did not come to the door of his tent and look to the bronze serpent that symbolized Christ made to be sin for us (see Num. 21:9; John 3:14, 15; 2 Cor. 5:21). Like Peter walking on the water, we may lose our security if we remove our gaze from Jesus and fasten it upon ourselves. The looking, the walking, and the partaking are interrelated and continuing activities.

It is not enough to come to the table and gaze upon the emblems; we must partake. We are to accept the provision—Christ for us; and the power—Christ in us. What food is to the body, Christ is to the soul. As the bread and the wine are absorbed into the bloodstream and become a part of our very being, so the benefits of the cross, righteousness and peace, are put to work in us through the indwelling Christ.

Unlike baptism, the ordinance of the Supper is to be enacted repeatedly. "For as often," we are told, "as you eat this bread ..." The first look to Christ, the initial acceptance of Him, is not the end. The look must become a gaze, the acceptance of Christ must develop into an abiding in Him. " 'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him' " (John 6:56).

The crucifixion took place in time but stands in eternity. Calvary is to be our assurance and inspiration, not only at the commencement of our Christian walk but at every step we take toward the promised kingdom. It is as the cross of Jesus assumes first place in our affections that we "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."

The past, present, and future are en compassed in the cross; and these three dimensions are combined in Christ's unalterable promise "'He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day'" (verse 54). Here is security, peace, and power!

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Edwin Gallagher is a pastor presently studying for his M.A. in religion in the Graduate School of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. He has written a number of articles and is the author of the book Yours for the Asking.

April 1979

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