April 5, 2009
What does it mean to remember? Often, the importance of memory is the contribution of hindsight to an understanding of an event or person in the past. Alistair Begg helps us to reflect on the meaning and importance of the Lord’s Supper, specifically calling to mind who Christ is and all that He has done on our behalf. As we partake of the symbolic bread and wine, we can set aside distractions and draw near to Him who is our Savior.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to Luke and to chapter 22. We’ll read a brief section which sets the context for our meditation prior to our Communion with Christ and with one another as we come around his Table. And we’ll read from verse 14. Luke 22:14:
“When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.’
“After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’
“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.’
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.’ They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
“Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who[’s] greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”
Father, we ask for your help as we just think for a moment or two about some of these words before we do as you have asked us to do in coming around this Table. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Memory is surely one of the great and most precious gifts that God has given us in terms of our physical existence. And it is for that reason that a loss of memory is one of the saddest and most cruel things, really, that can happen to an individual. It is therefore quite worthy of note that with frequency, the Bible calls the people of God to remember, and not only calls for our remembrance but provides aids to that remembrance. And so, for example, in the establishing of the Passover itself, of which we read way back in Exodus, all of the emblems of that were to be not only performed on that initial occasion but were to be written into the consciousness of God’s people from that day on. And it was within the framework of that that these events that we have read now were taking place.
You find the same thing when God gives instruction for stones to be set up as memorial stones, so that, he says, “when your children or your grandchildren have occasion to ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ you can tell them that just as God intervened and set us free from Egypt, so he intervened—brought his people not only through the parted waters of the Red Sea, but he also brought them through the parted waters of the Jordan.” And the stones would serve as a memorial to that end.
And then, of course, classically and finally, if you like, Jesus, in the institution of what we refer to as the Lord’s Supper, gives to all who will follow his disciples these wonderful aids to our reflection, to our recollection, and to our memory.
The disciples were themselves well aware of the significance of the Passover. They knew the history of God’s people. If our understanding of the New Testament is accurate, then the disciples will by this time have celebrated two Passover celebrations with the Lord Jesus. And now, on this final occasion, which Jesus has said he has been eagerly wanting to spend with them, they are unable to connect the dots. Here is another instance of what we saw this morning: that it was going to take hindsight for them to put the pieces of the puzzle together and to understand the nature and the significance of all that they were going through. They had not made the connection between the Passover and Jesus’ impending death for sinners—so much so that it must have been quite startling to them when Jesus took the bread and the wine, and then he told them, taking this bread and this wine, that in actual fact, this was emblematic of his body being broken and his blood being shed and that just as in the Passover they had rejoiced in the liberation from Egypt and the domination of the evil powers of Pharaoh and his family, so now they would be able to rejoice in the way in which he, in his death, was liberating sinners, casting them free from the shackles that bound them to their past and to their guilt.
Now, it’s for this very reason that we are able to view this meal, as we share it on a monthly basis here, as a meal that has been provided for those who understand. In the simplest of terms, it is a meal that has been provided for those who believe. Who believe what? Well, who believe that it is a futile attempt on anyone’s part to try to be good enough to make oneself acceptable to God; to believe, therefore, that all acceptance with God would be found, could be found, is found only in the atoning death of Jesus; for those who believe that although they are sinful and although they are guilty and although they are burdened, that in coming to Jesus, he puts their sins as far away as the east is from the west, so much so that even when the Accuser comes to remind them of things that have been buried in their past, they are able to resist him firm in the faith and to remind themselves and the Accuser that they have in Jesus an Advocate with the Father and that all of their sins—not some of their sins but the totality of them—have been nailed to the cross; so that when Jesus, in this simple ceremony, takes the bread and breaks it, it is emblematic of Christ’s body broken on behalf of sinners; when they, then, in turn would take the bread and eat it, it would be a reminder to them of what it means to have received Jesus Christ, to have accepted him in all of his work and all of his wonder, and to have been made part of his family; that when the wine was poured out, it would be indicative of the blood of Jesus being shed on behalf of sinners. And to the extent that wine was given to cheer and enrich the body, so there would be in this sacrifice and in this ceremony that which would lift and encourage and lighten the load and send those who participated out with all the joyful remembrances that were there.
And it is within that context that Jesus says something that is quite fantastic. And that is that he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Do you think that they could forget Jesus? Most of the commentators—most of the commentators—say that when Jesus says this, what he is referring to is the significance of his death. In other words, he’s not actually saying, “Do this so that you will remember me.” He’s saying, “Do this so that you will remember who I am and what I have done.” Well, clearly that is part of it. But let me ask you a question: Do you not think that there is validity in Jesus actually saying, “Do this so that you will remember me”?
If you go no further than the text that we read, you have indication of how easy it is for people to be as close to Jesus as they are and actually to lose sight of who he is and what he’s saying. Can it possibly be that at this Communion service, an argument breaks out among the disciples about which of them is the most significant? Well, don’t get on your high horse too quickly. Just remember some of the thoughts that have gone through your mind sitting right here at a Communion service—maybe even some of the thoughts that are going through your mind right now in the Communion service. And if you’re dead honest, you may have found already that your mind has wandered off, therefore making valid the exhortation of Jesus to do this in memorial and as a means of remembrance.
I was so glad when I went back to Spurgeon—and Spurgeon is such a help, isn’t he? I was telling one of our young fellows this week the doggerel concerning Spurgy—you know,
There once was a preacher called Spurgy
Who really detested liturgy,
But his sermons are fine,
And I use them as mine,
And so do most of the clergy.
So, I was greatly helped. If in doubt, retreat to Spurgeon! And when I went to Spurgeon, I found a sermon preached in 1855 on this very phrase: “Do this in remembrance of me.” And he says to his congregation, “I know what it is to forget Christ, and let me tell you how it happens,” he says: by two means.
One: because, he told his congregation, that his heart was “a cage of unclean birds, a den of loathsome creatures, where dragons haunt and owls do congregate.” The very quaintness of it is striking, isn’t it? So here the congregation sits in the Communion service, and here is Spurgeon, the prince of preachers, the one who holds London in sway by his oratory, the one who is able to pronounce with such great clarity and forcefulness. And as his congregation gathers, he says, “Well, maybe some of you won’t forget Jesus, but I want you to know that I am very good at forgetting Jesus. And I’ll tell you why: because my heart, my soul, is a cage of unclean birds.”
Secondly, he said, “And the reason I can forget him is because far too many other things attract me and occupy me.” “Far too many other things attract me and occupy me.” And picturing the moon and the sun, he uses the analogy of the sun in all of its largeness, so much more significance in size than the moon, and yet the moon being far more influential on the ocean tides of our planet. And Spurgeon makes the point that the reason the moon has the influence that it does is because of its proximity to the earth. And so he says, “Here is my problem in forgetting Christ”:
So I find that a little crawling worm [upon] the earth has more effect upon my soul than the glorious Christ [of] heaven; … a puff of fame, a shout of applause, a thriving business, my house, my home, will affect me more than all the glories of [heaven]; … simply because earth is near, and heaven is far away.
Now, as I say, I was greatly helped by that, and I hope that you are too. The memorial meal in which we share serves, then, to draw us away from all that distracts us, to turn us away from all that infects us, and to bring us close to all that actually matters in all the world. It is a means of drawing near.
Horatius Bonar, in the nineteenth century, wrote a hymn that had six verses concerning this, three of which I will quote to you now, concerning the nature of drawing near. This is what Horatius wrote, speaking of the Communion Table:
Here, O my Lord, may I behold your face;
Here may I touch and handle things unseen,
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace
And all my weariness upon you lean.
Here let me feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with you the royal wine of heaven;
Here let me lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.
Mine is the sin but yours the righteousness;
Mine is the guilt but yours the cleansing blood.
Here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace:
Your blood, your righteousness, O Lord my God.
“Do this,” says Jesus, “so that you won’t forget me, so that you will remember me.”
And so, as we come around this Table tonight, let us remember Christ. How should we remember him? Well, I’m not going to preach, but let me give you a few areas you may wish to recall just in light of our recent studies in Mark’s Gospel.
You may wish to remember him in his baptism as he comes up out of the waters of the Jordan—he who created H2O buried beneath his own creation for a moment, identified as the Messiah of God, identifying with sinners in his baptism.
You may want to think about him in his temptation. Adam in the garden of Eden had fought a battle with temptation and failed. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane fought a battle with temptation and was victorious. And in that temptation he provided for us, in him, a way of escape, so that tonight, as you remember him, you may want to remember the fact that you will never be tempted beyond that that you are able, because he with the temptation will provide you a way of escape. And you do not have as a high priest somebody who is at arm’s length from you and removed from your circumstances, but you have a High Priest who knows what it’s like at your school. You have a High Priest who knows what it’s like to face your temptations. You have a High Priest who is like us in every way and yet without sin.
You may want to think of him in his arrival in Jerusalem, as we thought of him this morning—“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see”—or to ponder him in the garden of Gethsemane as he is deeply troubled and distressed, or to think about him on the cross and that great unanswered cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And no answer ever comes, for there can be no answer. The very silence is the answer. And you may want to think about the fact, as you take this cup tonight, that Christ was made derelict—that Christ was bereft of that which he’d known from all of eternity in communion with the Father in order that we might be able to call him Abba, Father.
You might want to remember him as he sits in the evening, having come off the Emmaus Road, and as he breaks the bread, and as he explains all the things in the Bible concerning himself. You may like to think of him seated at the right hand of the Father—a High Priest who’s there interceding. You might like to think of him on the threshold of his return and, with the hymn writer, say,
I am waiting for the dawning
Of that bright and blessed day
When the darksome night of sorrow
Will have vanished far away,
When forever with the Savior,
Far beyond [the] vale of tears,
I shall [sing] the song of [triumph, of gladness]
Through the everlasting years.
But wherever you choose to settle your mind, let us remember Christ.
Father, why would Jesus ever exhort his disciples in this way if it were somehow unnecessary or irrelevant? We confess with Spurgeon that our souls are the habitation of all kinds of loathsome designs and desires. We confess that stuff, things around us, clamor for our attention—attention that we so easily and readily give. And so it’s good for us to gather round this Table and to realize that all of our acceptance with you, the living God, is found in Christ alone—that he is the one who is our robe of righteousness, he is the one who is our beautiful clothing, he is the one in whom we hide, and he is the one in whom you see us. Otherwise, how could you ever bear to look upon us? Thank you that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God.”
Help us now, as we crown the worship of our day in passing these emblems to one another. May we do so with a spirit of genuine joy and thanksgiving. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 See Exodus 12:1–28.
 Joshua 4:5–7 (paraphrased).
 See Psalm 103:12.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Remembrance of Christ,” The New Park Street Pulpit 1, no. 2, 10. Paraphrased.
 Spurgeon, 10.
 Spurgeon, 10. Paraphrased.
 Spurgeon, 10.
 Horatius Bonar, “Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face” (1855). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See 1 Corinthians 10:13.
 See Hebrews 4:15.
 Charles Wesley, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (1739).
 Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 24:27, 30.
 See Romans 8:34.
 Samuel Trevor Francis, “I Am Waiting for the Dawning” (1869).
 Colossians 3:3 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.