The Lord's Supper (2)

Every incident recorded for us in the Holy Scriptures by the Spirit of God, has for its chief purpose the exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ; and as He rises in His surpassing glory before the soul, all divine truth takes its right place in the heart, and the Christian is edified and established according to the will of God. To acquire knowledge of doctrine without this is disastrous, for the flesh is puffed up thereby, and the possessor, falling into the fault of the Devil, becomes enwrapped in the worst of error.

The re-telling of the institution of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-25) seems to have this character in a special way. In the first place, we notice that the Apostle had received direct revelation from the Lord as to it for the Gentiles. In no other passage have we these words used — "I have received of the Lord," though in connection with the coming of the Lord (1 Thess. 4), we have something similar, marking these two things out for special notice: the Lord's Supper — the reminder of His great love to us in the past; and His coming again for us — proof that that precious love does not and will not wane.

But not only did the Apostle receive a revelation from the Lord as to this, but he was also inspired by the Holy Ghost to record that revelation in the epistle addressed to all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours, so that the subject has received double emphasis, and should command the earnest attention of all who love the Lord.

If a human mind had been left to its own wisdom in the recording of this incident of incidents, we should probably have been told that the Supper was instituted on the night before the crucifixion, for that which is the greatest thing in the mind would have been uppermost. But a divine hand has drawn the picture, and the object seems to be that the constancy of the love of Jesus should be thrown into the brightest relief by the dark background of the betrayal.

We recall that scene: from the world's cold rejection and bitter hatred Jesus had withdrawn with His own into the upper chamber. Oh, how He loved them! He knew that without, the Pharisees had plotted His death, that even then the moment was at hand when the rabble would lay violent hands on Him, but nothing better than this could be expected from a world of which Satan was the prince. Yet surely His sorrow-charged heart could find rest and solace in the midst of His chosen twelve? Nay, it was then and there that He had to say, "Verily, verily, I say to you, that one of you shall betray Me" (John 13:21). What anguish must have pierced His heart as He gave utterance to these words "one of you." He had watched over them with an infinite tenderness. He had shielded them from the rude blasts of a devil-deceived world, and had been their Comforter and Guide in every trial. He had prayed for them while their weary bodies slept, and had taught them when they woke; no tongue can tell how precious they were to Him, but at the end He has to testify, "One of you shall betray Me"!

It was reserved for the flesh to display itself in that little circle in a way that was impossible elsewhere, so that its hatefulness might be demonstrated and its incorrigibility undeniably proved. It is vain to talk of the elevating effect of environment, and to plead that if the conditions in which men live were altered they would be different. No man could have had greater privileges or better opportunity than Judas yet at the end of three years "familiar" friendship with the Son of God, he betrayed Him with a kiss, and that for the price of a slave. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and the flesh in which Judas lived and acted is within every one of us. We do well to keep this in mind.

But this did not change the heart of Jesus: indeed it was with this terrible disclosure of the flesh in full view that He instituted the Supper — that which was to be throughout all time a reminder to "His own of a love that was quenchless and eternal, a love which would buffet the fierce billows of death on their behalf, that would give Himself for them.

We are taught important lessons by the contrasts in Scripture and here we light on one of a most striking character. Peter heard the words of Jesus, "one of you," but he did not believe that he was capable of so vile a deed; he was forward in protesting his devotion to his Lord, he was prepared to stand by Him even to death. All others might fly before the foe, but Jesus might rest secure in his support. Peter was a self-confident man, and he did not see why the Lord should not put the same confidence in him as he put in himself.

It was there that the flesh had him at an advantage, and the consequence of this self-confidence was, that he slept while his Master watched and wept, he fought in the excitement of nature when his Master was calmly submissive. He stooped to console himself at the fire of his Master's foes. He denied Him with oaths and profanity, and is seen at last in the pitiless night a conscience-stricken and heart-broken backslider.

John also heard his Master's words; he made no profession above the rest, but he was near to his Lord, and it was as though he said, "Master, I hear what you say, and believe your words, and I can neither trust my own heart nor the heart of any of my fellows, but I can trust yours," and so he put his head down upon Jesus' breast (John 13:23).

This was confidence in the Lord instead of self, and mark the result. John went in with Jesus to the palace of the high priest, and he stood so near the Cross during the last great sorrow that Jesus could turn to him and say, "Behold thy mother" (John 19:27). What a comfort it must have been to the tender heart of the Son of God to have had one near to Him at that moment, whom He could trust, and to whom He could commit that precious legacy. But this could not have been if John had reposed in his love to Jesus instead of Jesus' love to him.

So the night of the betrayal, and the Lord's Supper, are linked together for us in the holy record, that we might not rely upon that which is utterly untrustworthy as did Peter, but upon Him who can never fail us. And it is as though His own lips exhorted us to the partaking of His Supper that these things might be kept green in the memory. In it He Himself is brought before the soul, for it is, "This do in remembrance of Me," and we do well to lay the emphasis on the "Me." All that He is and ever will be in the depth of His love for us and the strength of His unlimited devotion to God shone out in His death. As He hung with head bowed upon a cross of shame, and blood flowing from spear-rent side, having tasted death as the judgment of God against sin, the full tale was told. "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (S. of Sol. 8:7). To the uttermost extremity that love would go, that God might be glorified, and we might be saved.

"Oh! what a load was Thine to bear
  Alone in that dark hour,
Our sins in all their terror there,
  God's wrath and Satan's power."

It is Himself: what He endured, and the perfection which shone in the midst of that darkness, that we are given to recall in His Supper, until our souls are filled with adoration and worship. And from the remembrance of Him, if rightly affected thereby, we shall go forth having no confidence in the flesh, but rejoicing in Him: not to rest in our love to Him, but His to us, and so shall we be His friends to whom He can commit some precious charge to keep for Him in this world.

If the flesh displayed itself in the betrayal, it met its full condemnation in the death of Jesus; for He who was ever the holy, spotless Son of God, came in the likeness of sinful flesh, and submitted Himself to its full judgment.

This is a deeply solemn side of the subject, and it is here that the exhortation comes in, "Let a man examine himself (or 'let him be self-judged'), and so let him eat" (1 Cor. 11:28). The flesh in us which brought the Son of God into the judgment of death, must be judged by those who partake of that Supper. But to judge the flesh is not to hold it in check by some legal resolve or method, but to be wholly taken up with and dependent upon the One whose love shone forth in death, and who lives evermore to be the satisfying object of the heart that knows Him.