Preparing For The Supper: Feeding on Christ

The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote “Nowhere is God so near to man as in Jesus Christ, and nowhere is Christ so familiarly represented to us as in this holy sacrament.” I love this quote as it speaks to the Father’s kindness and Jesus’ love as revealed in the gospel as preached through the physical means of bread and wine (in KVPC’s case wine in its pre-fermented phase, a.k.a. juice). Yet, we mustn’t take Baxter’s quote to mean more than it does. The Lord’s Supper is special and we should treat it as so, but it pales in especiality next to the Word of God. When we elevate the Supper above the Word numerous errors occur, chief of which is the nature faith plays in receiving the gospel preached in Word and in Sacrament. Today we consider faith and Jesus’ love as a fuel to help our faith.

John 6:53-58 So Jesus said to them, “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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

The above text from John 6 is about faith, and isn’t about the Lord’s Supper. In my humble opinion and experience, this is the prime text used incorrectly to elevate the Sacrament to the place of the Word, or higher (not the incarnate Word, mind you, but the written/inscripturated Word). How do we know Jesus isn’t talking about the Sacrament, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked that, it’s an important question.

We know from the context that this isn’t about the Lord’s Supper, though as it tells us about Jesus it does have some bearing on the Lord’s Supper. The historical context is that the day before Jesus fed the 5000 (likely 15-20000 including women and children) with 5 loaves and two fish, then at night Jesus and his disciples crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. At least some of the crowds followed him the next day, seeking to see more signs of the same type. As Jesus said, “you came to me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”. They physically saw the signs, I mean, they even ate the signs, but Jesus’ point was that they didn’t see them with the eyes of their hearts.

In the text of John 6 it’s clear that Jesus isn’t talking about physical eating, which would be necessary if he was speaking about the Lord’s Supper. Compare what he said in the gospels, “this is my body, this is my blood” as he fed them from the Passover bread and wine. There’s no reference to eating after the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, in fact, in the “I am the bread of life” the absence of physical food is what causes the majority of Jesus’ disciples to leave. Because if there’s no food or wine they mistakenly think he’s promoting some kind of strange cannibalism in which He is the meal to be devoured.

What Jesus is referring to is feeding on him by faith. Believing what he said about himself. Trusting his work as yours, and trusting your works will be accepted by God because as you are united to Christ by faith so, too, are your works accepted by God as Jesus’.

John 6:32-34 illustrates the nature of the instrument of faith in partaking of the Sacrament, 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.” Moses was the one who prayed, who led, who was visible, touchable, in short sensible to the Israelites, like the bread and wine are in the Supper. But, like Moses, the bread and wine aren’t ultimately important (though necessary like Moses), God is. Jesus is the bread of life, the sacramental bread feeds you with Jesus, just like the preached word feeds you with Jesus. It’s a question of faith, whether a seed of faith, or a deep, rich faith, either and everything in between, is utensil, furnished by God, that feeds you with Jesus, the bread of life.

Consider your faith as you prepare for the Lord’s Supper, not to demoralize yourself, but to see it as a gift from God. Faith didn’t come from you, but now it’s yours to care for, nurture, and feed. Jesus, being in the flesh like we are (even now) understands our weaknesses and has given us physical signs to help us hold on the spiritual truths of the gospel. He loved us so much that he was incarnated, lived in our skins, punished in our place, and rose from the dead for our justification. And on top of that, knowing our weakness he condescends in his revealing himself by doing so through food–the most familiar of all representations in man’s existence, becasue one thing every person knows from the day they are born is, we gotta eat. Jesus feeds us with himself. That’s unspeakable love.

Use the unspeakable love of Christ to be fuel for your faith as you come to the Table. John Owen said, “We are never nearer Christ than we find ourselves in holy amazement at his unspeakable love.”