I recently had the opportunity to preach at my church’s Lord’s Supper Service on Luke 24:13-35, in which I talked about how the elements of the Lord’s Supper are physical reminders of the gospel message. The video of it is below (it’s a private video, so you will need to enter the password ‘nealhardin’ if you want to watch it on Vimeo).
Below is a written version of what I preached if you would prefer to read rather than watch/listen.
Is God Physically Present with Us?
During my time in Washington DC this summer, there was a point where I was feeling a little homesick and lonely. I remembered one of my elders once bringing up in a sermon the words of Jesus that, “it is to your advantage that I go away,” (John 16:7) and how hard that is to sometimes believe. Who wouldn’t want a physical Jesus to be present at times to see, to hear, to touch, to be comforted by? I was having one of those moments…wishing that God could give me a hug and interact with my physical senses in some way.
During my time in prayer, God in his mercy began to show me ways in which, though perhaps not exactly in the way that I would want in that moment, he does interact with our physical senses through the Church, through his Body.
Through sight, we can behold the face of a friend or brother or sister in Christ, we can observe the beauty and wonder in creation, or we can see the creativity of our fellow believers through media and the visual arts.
Through hearing, we can listen to the preaching of the Word, be ministered to through worship music, or be encouraged through someone’s words.
Through touch (my personal favorite), we can connect to each other through the embrace of a friend or the laying on of hands in prayer.
Smell is invoked less regularly in church unless you belong to a denomination that burns incense. But I was also reminded of how our prayers are like incense before the Lord (Psa 141:2, Rev 5:8).
And going through each sense, when I came to the sense of taste, I of course thought of a fellowship of believers gathered around a dinner table together to share a meal, but God also brought the Lord’s Supper to mind as a way in which God engages our sense of taste.
As a Scriptural example of this, I came across Luke 24:13-35. Here we see that Jesus reveals himself to these disciples through the breaking of bread in a way that is reminiscent of what just happened two chapters earlier when Jesus broke bread with his disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Luke 24:13-35 – The Road to Emmaus
Just to set the stage a little bit, this passage comes right after the resurrection of Christ. On the third day, some of his women followers found the tomb empty, and then the disciples went and verified it, but no one quite knew what to make of it. This passage in Luke is happening that very same day.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him…
I’ll just note here before continuing, it was fairly common for Jesus to not be recognized in his post resurrection appearances.
- There are several instances where he simply appears among the disciples, frightening them because they think he is a ghost. Jesus then has to reassure them and give some kind of identifying marker to prove that it’s him like the nail marks in his hands or the spear hole in his side. (Luke 24:36-43, John 20:19-29)
- With Mary in the garden, she thought he was the gardener until he said her name. (John 20:11-18)
- While several of the disciples were out fishing, they didn’t recognize him until he told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat only to catch a miraculous number of fish. (John 21:1-23)
Here in this passage, we’ll see that, similar to these other appearances, these disciples are kept from recognizing him until the pivotal moment when Jesus breaks the bread.
17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
(Ironically, he was the only one that knew what had happened in these days. But he goes along with it…)
19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Man, who would have liked to have been there for that explanation? I know that I would! Emmaus was about 7 miles from Jerusalem, so the journey would have lasted for at least a few hours if you were walking.
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.
Now, I can only imagine what is going through these disciples’ minds. We’ll see here in a few verses that while Jesus was explaining the Scriptures to them, they said that their hearts were burning within them.
Have you ever had an experience where you see someone that you know you’ve seen somewhere before or have met, but you can’t for the life of you figure out where you know them from or why? I imagine that’s a little of what these two disciples are going through right now. They’ve just had Jesus himself open up the entire Old Testament to them in its testimony of him, and they’re probably thinking to themselves, “Man, this is so good! But yet this feels so familiar.” It must be driving them nuts.
So, in common Ancient Near Eastern hospitality, they strongly urge him to spend the night with them. I know that I would want to pick his brain more if I were them. Continuing on, he went into stay with them and…
30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.
The lights finally turn on for these disciples and the recognize Jesus, the catalyst being this instance of the breaking of bread. For whatever reason, God waited until this moment for their eyes to be opened to his true identity.
Several commentators note that the verbs used for the disciples’ eyes being kept from recognizing Jesus and then being opened to recognize him are “divine passives,” meaning that God is the one who is controlling their ability to recognize Jesus.
And while I don’t want to make more out of this detail than the passage warrants, I have to think that there’s some significance to God choosing to reveal himself at this particular moment. Why now and not when he was opening the Scriptures to them? From my human point of view, that seemed to be the more natural time to have a mic drop type of moment, but instead God waits until now. So, they recognize Jesus, he vanishes, and…
32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Again, you can see that the breaking of the bread is what is being highlighted here. Jesus chooses to reveal himself to them through the breaking of the bread.
The Lord’s Supper as a physical reminder of the gospel message
This is a good picture for what happens in the Lord’s Supper.
Similarly, as Jesus revealed himself to these disciples through the breaking of bread, so does he reveal himself to us today through the elements in the Lord’s Supper. And he reveals himself in a way that is physically tangible, even to our taste buds.
This isn’t a new thing. We see throughout the Old Testament how God used physical reminders of his law as a way to ultimately put it on our heart, as we see in Deut 6:4-9.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In a similar way, the Lord’s Supper serves as a physical reminder to us of our Lord’s death and its meaning.
Just a few chapters earlier in Luke 22:19, it is recorded:
19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
You’ll notice that the account of the bread is very similar to Luke 24 with the taking, the blessing, the breaking, and the giving of the bread to the disciples. A similar pattern is also used in Luke 9 during the feeding of the 5000. Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples, which was then given to the crowds.
The bread symbolized his body, broken for us, given for us. The bread that was probably used during the institution of the Lord’s Supper was unleavened bread. Leaven was a symbol of decay and corruption, and so when God instituted the Passover, he commanded that unleavened bread be eaten as a representation of ridding themselves of decay and corruption of sin.
Similarly, Jesus probably would have been using this same bread since this was during a Passover meal. It is with this bread that he says, “This is my body.” Just as the bread was without leaven, Jesus was without sin. He was the perfect lamb of God without blemish who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). And just as blood was used to cover the doorposts of the Israelites so that the angel of death would pass over them (Exo 12:13), so now Jesus’ blood covers our sins and causes God’s judgment to pass over us.
But not only is the Lord’s Supper about the bread, but it is also about the cup. Luke 22:20 reads
20 And likewise [he took] the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Other passages of Scripture add to this account that his blood “is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins…” (Matt 26:28) and that Jesus says, “…Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25).
Blood plays a huge role in the Old Testament law and we often see a strong connection between blood and life (Lev 17:11). It was often said that the life was in the blood. Blood was used for just about anything involving the redemption and forgiveness of sins.
Hebrews 9:11-15a explains this far more eloquently than I can.
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance…
His blood and his life served as payment for our sins, and the cup serves as a tangible reminder of this.
The Lord’s Supper serves as a tangible reminder of the gospel message. But what is also important to emphasized is that the elements are not just reminders of the past. Every time we partake of the elements in the present, we also proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes in the future (1 Cor 11:26). Thus, all of time becomes fused with meaning through this one act.
Let us now together proclaim the Lord’s death as one body, as one bride, and through one Spirit.