Sermon: John 6:22-40: The Lord’s Supper – What Is It?

Scripture Reading: John 6:22-40

“On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus then said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.’” (John 6:22–40, ESV)

So far the reading of God’s holy, inspired, inerrant, and authoritative word.


So we have moved backwards in our series through John’s gospel, haven’t we? We concluded chapter 17 last Sunday, and now we are in chapter 6!

Here’s the reason for it: the elders of Emmaus have for some time been discussing our current approach to the Lord’s Supper and have, in the process of time, with much prayer and consideration given to the Scriptures, decided that the time has come to make some changes. It is our desire to move Emmaus to the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper and to the use of bread and wine (though grape juice will still be made available for those who desire it).

This is a rather significant change! We as a leadership are aware of it’s significance, and that is why we have moved slowly in bringing it to you. We understand that for some the transition will be difficult. Questions will likely abound. For that reason I will be teaching on the Supper this Sunday and next, seeking to address those questions and concerns. As usual, we pray that you would come to us with your questions and concerns so that we can shepherd in an understanding way.

It has been our custom to observe the Supper on the first Sunday of the month and to use bread and grape juice. Why was this our practice? Well, the simple answer is that we brought it with us from the congregation out of which we were born!

The truth of the matter is that I have for some time felt the need for reform in this area. It was before we planted Emmaus that I began to ask the question, why do we observe the Supper only once a month? And after that, why is it that we use grape juice, instead of wine? I’ve personally studied the issue and have thought much about it. I began to talk with the leadership of Emmaus about this a couple of years ago, and they too have come to believe that we should observe weekly and with wine.

I would like, first of all, to briefly summarize the rationale behind such a move. After that I will move into the body of this sermon which seeks to answer the question, what is the Lord’s Supper? In the sermon next Sunday I will take time to answer the question, how should the Supper be observed? So first, a brief and general explanation. Second, the question, what is the Lord’s Supper? And third, the question, how should it be observed? (which will be addressed in detail next week). 

First, the rationale:

I should start by saying that a simple reading of the New Testament, and a consideration of the practice of the early church, leaves one with the impression that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed weekly using bread and wine. I’ll work to demonstrate this next week. For now I will simply state the principle. Any deviation from this practice should be called into question and explained. The burden of proof is upon those who deviate from this pattern. I found that I could no longer give an adequate answer to the questions, why once a month, and why grape juice? 

Two, the leadership of Emmaus has grown in their conviction that the Lord’s Supper is of great spiritual benefit to the people of God and should not be withheld from the them. In it we feast upon Christ by faith. In it the people of God are nourished and refreshed, called to repentance, and urged to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. In it the gospel is preached, not with words, but through symbol. Many other benefits could be presented, but the point for now is to ask, why would we withhold such a good thing from God’s people, and especially when the scriptures seem to direct us towards regular observance?

The objection that I most commonly hear to the regular observance of the Supper is that it will grow common to the people of God if we observe it week after week.

I’d like to brief respond to that objection by saying, should we not then apply that principle consistently and only preach and pray and sing once a month too? Actually, if we were to follow that line of thinking one could argue that it would be best to gather for worship only once a month! I think all would agree that the Lord’s Supper is not the only element of our worship that has the potential of growing common to the people of God. Are we not also tempted to approach prayer and preaching and singing in a lifeless and routine way?

Brothers and sisters, the solution to the problem of monotony is not to be found in the alteration of the the frequency of an event, but in the transformation and renewal of the heart. God has prescribed a rhythm for our gathering and worship, and that rhythm is one day in seven. And he has prescribed what is to be done in worship, for “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of [the] bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, ESV) The truth of the matter is that we would struggle to come with hearts prepared for worship no matter if frequency were once a week or once a month or once a year, due to our sinfulness.

The objection that I most commonly hear concerning the use of wine in the Supper is that it tempts the people of God towards alcoholism. We do want to be sensitive to this issue. Alcoholism is a serious thing. Some of have struggled greatly with it. By no means do we want to minimize the significance of that.

I will say more about this next week, but let me address this objection briefly now.

Notice that we still plan to offer grape juice. I think the middle circle in the communion tray will have grape juice, the outer wine. This is for the young people who have been baptized and who – either by their own decision, or the decision of their parents (perhaps because they are not yet 21) – would prefer to partake using the juice. I think it is best for families to decide where they stand on that. The juice is also for those who, being aware of their own weakness and propensities with alcohol decide that it is best not to touch the stuff. We understand and respect that decision too. We do want to be sensitive to not offend your conscience.

Consider this, though. The Corinthian church struggled with drunkenness in the congregation in association with the observance with the Supper. It was not that some tasted a thimble full of wine and then were prompted to go home and drink to the point of drunkenness – they were getting drunk at church! See for yourself in 1Corinthians 11:21. Now that’s a problem! And what was Paul’s solution? He did not say, let’s use grape juice instead. No, he rebuked the church for their sin and urged repentance. He did not alter the words of Christ. He did not put a bandaid on the issue. Instead he got to the heart of it by urging repentance.

Consider this too. If a person struggles with alcohol, what better way to gain victory over the sin of drunkenness than to partake of a little wine week after week, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, confessing the sins of the past, and asking for strength to have victory over the temptations of the future? I would imagine that that process would be healthy for most. For those who’s addiction is more severe, we offer grape juice in an attempt to be sensitive to those challenges.

I suppose some could accuse us of inconsistency here saying, why offer juice at all? I see that. But I would prefer to call it pastoral sensitivity instead. To be clear, I do not fault a pastor who, after assessing his congregation, decides to use juice, or celebrate the Supper less frequently. There are some extreme cases that might necessitate such a move for a time. If I were doing a church plant in a community where alcoholism dominated the culture, I would use grape juice… for a while… until the issue of alcoholism could be addressed. If were doing church planting in a community where the bread and wine were worshiped as if they contained the actual body and blood of Christ, I might consider infrequent observance… for a time… until the issue of idolatry could be addressed.

Brothers and sisters, we do not have anything like that going on in our context. Nothing close to it.  I, therefore, can not make a reasonable case for doing anything except observing the Supper in the way that the scriptures prescribe – weekly, and with bread and wine.

We will answer the question, how should the Supper be observed? next week. Today, the question is, what is the Supper? There is a reason why we are tackling these two questions in this order. Our view of what the Supper is will inevitably have in impact upon how we observe it. And so we begin here: what is the Lord’s Supper?

I have three simple points, and I will need to make them quickly. First of all, the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal. Secondly, it is a symbolic meal. And thirdly, it a spiritual meal.

A Covenantal Meal

First of all, recognize that the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal. It is a meal which reminds us of the fellowship, or right relationship, or communion that we enjoy with God under the New Covenant, or the Covenant of Grace. We enjoy right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ – his obedient life, death, and resurrection. He is the servant, or mediator, of the New Covenant.  It is through his obedience to God, and his sacrificial death, that we are able to come to God. The observance of the Supper reminds us that we are in covenant with God through faith in Jesus. The meal reminds us of and renews this covenant bond anew and afresh each time we partake.

Think of it. When you eat a meal with someone it indicates that you have a right relationship with them. Sharing a meal is a powerful thing relationally. And it is God who shares this meal with us. We are invited to sit at his table and to sup with him!

We come to God initially through faith in Jesus on the basis of his life, death, and resurrection. Baptism is the sacrament that marks the beginning of the Christian life. But the Lord’s Supper signifies the ongoing, continual, aspect of our walk with God. Baptism marks our entrance into the Covenant – the Lord’s supper signifies our remaining in the Covenant. Some have compared this to marriage, noticing that baptism is like the wedding, whereas the Lord’s Supper is like the anniversary.  Thabiti Anyabwile said it this way: “While baptism represents a kind of ‘I do’ between Christ and his bride, the Supper repeats an ‘I continue’ statement of love from Jesus to the church”.

Notice something about that quote. According to Thabiti, who is speaking to whom in the Supper? He emphasizes that it is Christ speaking to us! And I agree with his assessment! I am not denying that we say something to God and to the world through baptism and the Supper. Certainly that is true! When we receive baptism, and when we receive the Supper, we are indeed identifying with Christ, receiving his mark, and confessing him as Lord. But do not miss this point – the sacraments are a word from God to us. And what does he say to us through the sacraments? Well, the same thing that he says to us in the gospel. When the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered, the message is the same. It is the same massage that comes to us when the gospel is preached and when the sacraments are observed. The difference is the form. Through preaching the gospel is delivered with words. In the sacraments the gospel is delivered by way of symbol.

When we partake of the Lord’s Supper God reminds of this wonderful news. We are in a right relationship with him, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us. He took our sins, and we have received his righteousness. We have been made right with God in the Covenant of Grace.

Meals are significant in the scriptures, aren’t they?

Think of the Passover feast. What was that except a meal which reminded the people of Israel of their relationship with God on the basis of God’s work of redemption in delivering them from bondage in Egypt. When was the Lord’s Supper instituted except in the context of that ancient feast? The bread that Christ gave to his disciples was the unleavened bread of the Passover feast. The cup, was third of four cups in the Passover feast. Just as Passover was a covenantal meal, so too the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal which reminds us that we are in a covenant relationship with our God by virtue of his great and final act of redemption, though Jesus Christ.

Think also of the meal which the nobles of Israel ate in the presence of the Lord when the Old Covenant was confirmed with them. In Exodus 24:9-11 we read, “Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up [on Mt. Sinai], and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:9–11, ESV)

This is not a novel concept, then. Throughout the history of redemption God has used the eating of meals to mark or signify the ratification or renewal of a covenant. And so with that in mind listen to words of Christ when he instituted the Supper: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:26–29, ESV)

Notice two things for now. One, Jesus is clear that the Supper represents the covenant which is made in his blood. When we ask the question, what is the Lord’s Supper? one of the first things that should come to mind is covenant renewal. God has made a covenant, or agreement, with us based upon grace, and upon the virtue of Christ’s shed blood, so that we can be in right relationship with him.  When we partake of the Supper we are remembering and renewing that covenant. Two, notice Christ’s mention of a future meal. The Supper that we enjoy today is but a foreshadowing of a much greater feast that we will enjoy with our Lord when all things are brought to a consummation and made new.

I wish I could say more. For now, see that the Lord’s Supper is a covenantal meal.

A Symbolic Meal

Secondly, recognize that the Lord’s Supper is a symbolic meal. The bread and the wine, and our partaking of it, are filled with symbolism.

Again, so much could be said about this. I will make only three observations.

At the most basic level the bread and wine symbolize the broken body and the shed blood of Jesus. His body was broken for you, his blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. When we partake of the Supper we  “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26, ESV)

Notice also that we are not merely to look at the bread and wine, but we are to eat it. Eating and drinking nourish the physical body, and this is symbolic of the fact that Christ is our spiritual sustenance. This is what Jesus was getting at when he said in John 6:53, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” He is here calling men and women to faith in him. That is what it means to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood”, and the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of that. It is a reminder that our life is found in Christ, and that it is received as we feast on him by faith.

Notice lastly that the Supper is symbolic of our union with one another. We drink from the same cup, metaphorically speaking., and we eat from the same loaf. It is Christ that we are individually partakers of. We are united to him by faith. And being united to him individually means that we are in fact united to one another. “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17, ESV)

The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic meal. The bread and wine, and our partaking of it, is filled with rich and meaningful symbolism.

A Spiritual Meal 

The third thing to be noticed is that the Lord’s Supper is a spiritual meal.

God has adopted us into his family, and now he feeds us. In the Supper we feed upon Christ, that has already been said. The question is, how so?

There have been three main views as to how it is that we feed upon Christ in the Supper.

One view is that Christ is not really present at all in the Supper, we simply remember him in the memorial. The Reformer Ulrich Zwingli held to this view. Of course it is true that we are to remember Christ in the Supper and to be encouraged by him, but it is our view that there is more to Supper than that.

The Roman Catholics and the Lutherans actually share something in common in their view of the Supper. Both believe that Christ is present in the Supper bodily and substantially. Rome teaches transubstantiation. That is the teaching that when a priest consecrates the elements the bread and wine transform into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. This we reject as unbiblical and superstitious. Luther rejected this, but taught what is called consubstantiation. This is the view that, while the bread and wine remain bread and wine, the body of Christ is indeed really present with or alongside the bread and wine. The Roman and Lutheran view share this in common, then. When asked, where is Jesus? They look at the sacrament and say, he is here!

Calvin and the Reformed disagreed with Zwingli, Rome, and Luther and insist that we feast upon Christ in the Supper, not by chewing on the actual flesh and blood of Jesus, but by chewing upon him with the mouth of faith. When we eat the sacrament we are only eating bread and wine, but our hearts are indeed lifted up by the Spirit to Christ where he is in heaven. We feast upon him by the Spirit. He nourishes us spiritually. We chew on him flesh and blood, not with our teeth, but with the mouth of faith. This is our view.

Listen to the LBC 30.7. “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”

The crucial question is this: where is Jesus? For Rome and Luther the answer is, he is here in the elements. For those of us in the Reformed tradition, when we look at the bread and wine our eyes and hearts are lifted up to heaven where Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand.

Brothers and sisters, when we partake of the Supper it is more than a memorial. It is that, but it is more than that. We feast upon Christ, not according to the flesh, but by the Spirit. We are nourished by him indeed.


Friends, I hope that the news of partaking weekly brings joy to your heart. I hope that you view the Supper in such a way that you say, praise the Lord that we will have opportunity to be renewed in the covenant, meditate upon the symbolism, and feast upon Christ in this spiritual meal, not monthly, but weekly! Praise God for that we will have more of this good thing. That is my hope – that you would respond in this way.

We will be partaking of the Supper next week on the first Sunday of the month as usual. Our plan is to partake again on the second Sunday of March, and every Sunday thereafter. That will be new to us. I pray that you will prayerful full consider these things over the next few week and talk to the elders of Emmaus if you have questions or concerns so that we can work through them together.

May God strengthen his church by the Spirit as we walk with him being nourished by his word and sacrament, to the glory of name. Amen.

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